Monthly Archives: January 2016

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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On Repression (and cannibalism) (1851)

P.-J. Proudhon, Carnets, Vol. 4 (Carnet No. 8, 311): 154

Revolutionary Practice. — Repression, [can] perhaps [be] employed with success against the whimsies of the sects, contagious mental illnesses. — Against a revolution, it can only transmit them, i.e. by making the explosion more terrible.

— Anthropophagy was the first phase of progress, necessary to all the progress that followed. So it has been a relative good. It was necessary that man eat man before he could eat God. If anthropophagy had only existed in the case of famine, it would have ceased with famine. That was not the case. It has a place in our ideas, in our rights and duties, in our religion. — Without it, the conditions that followed are inexplicable. — Neither more or less odious, after all, than capitalism and Malthusian property. — First stage of the right of people, first attribute of the aristocracy. Who knows if the object of the first Charter granted to the people was not to guarantee that the king and the nobles would no longer eat their tenants!

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Of the Ideal, and of Supernaturalism in Nature (1851)

P.-J. Proudhon, Carnets, Vol. 4 (Carnet No. 8, 311-312): 154-155.

— The Marvelous [or the Supernatural] in Humanity, third cause of revolution. — Subordinate to the common sense, but distinct from it. — It is not a malady, a pathological state or transition, like teething or puberty in individuals: it is a faculty, a real function of the soul, [but one that is] little known, like the spleen or tonsils in animals. Everything provided by that faculty constantly vanishes before analysis, but it still exerts the greatest influence on the acts of the Species. Already we have seen that God is the great revolutionary agent, as privileged inheritor of the old abuses. — The old communist sects did not fail to make God sole proprietor. — Domini est terra, et plenitudo ejus.


P.-J. Proudhon, Carnets, Vol. 4 (Carnet No. 8, 317-318): 159-161.

REVOLUTIONARY PRACTICE. — Of the Ideal, and of Supernaturalism in Nature. —

1. A third revolutionary agent is indispensable:

2. It is the Ideal, the Infinite, in Thought.

It acts more energetically on us than all the rest: example. — A man wants a women, but beautiful, which is more than a woman…

A king, but handsome, glorious, victorious.

And so on.

We affirm that ideal objectively in God and Heaven;

We create it in ourselves, and with our own hands;

Art is the reproduction of that ideal.

The absurd is all that is settled on as the ideal, but the ideal is not absurd.

The ideal always has an object or an idea as basis. But it is obviously something other than that object or that idea.

The ideal disappears and oscillates in Humanity like the ideas and interests.

3. There is no more ideal in society: neither God, nor Cult, nor Kings, nor Government.

God has lost all ontological and aesthetic value.

Utopia offers nothing.

Atheism is the negation of God, the ontological and aesthetic ideal; — without ulterior affirmation.

[318] More than a means, it is to change the idea of being into that of becoming; and since God does not exist, it is necessary to invent him.

It is necessary to realize that great, extra-natural, extra-sensible existence, which the understanding conceives, but the Reason does not comprehend.

We must make the collective man, first give him being and then beauty. In short, [it is necessary] to create the Supreme Being.

We have the clay with which to mold it, and a model according to which to give it shape.

The Collective Man is truly the supernatural in nature: it is the New God, which results from the unlimited liberty of its members.

On this subject, show that the Communities, coalitions, hierarchies and corporate bodies are negations of the Collective Man, and of the sovereign People (chapter on Unity.)

After having denied all government, and proclaimed anarchy, affirm the People, the reality and personality of the collective man.

After having denied Political Economy, and the Economics of the State, affirm Social Economy.

After having denied God, affirm HUMANITY.

That Humanity is not perfect, but it becomes so; its ideal consists in that [becoming]: — of constantly modifying itself and varying.

The brigand and the assassin affirm the beautiful and the sublime.

It is the sanction of right and of duty.

Thus to substitute the indefinite for the infinite, the perfectible for the PERFECT, becoming for BEING, the faciebat for the facit [fecit?], time for ETERNITY, movement for SUBSTANCE, progress for stability.

Everything is revolutionary, in Heaven and on the Earth.

So we are atheists as the first Christians were. — The divine, […], does not die in Humanity. The Christian God becomes as ugly as he is unintelligible, and every divinity conceived according to the ancient principles and method is inadmissible.

— Every worn-out idea become rococo, a ridiculous joke: the comic is the antidote for every chauvinism!

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On human emancipation (1850)

P.-J. Proudhon, Carnets, Vol. 4, Carnet No. 8, P. 43-44.

__________

The history of the human race has only been one long effort of the working classes to free themselves from tyranny and theft.–

All government is tyrannical.

All property is theft.

All religion is mystification. [177]

It seems that tyranny, theft and illusion are eternal in the human race. As for me I would dare to affirm otherwise!

In any case, this is what takes place.

That effort of emancipation is the very life of our species.

– The economic order is beneath all that; and itself, steeped in arbitrariness, theft and mystification, to the point of that it is impossible not to recognize in the theft, the tyranny and the philosophical lie, a sin against the Holy Spirit, superstition or religion, as one wishes, a necessity that is imminent, eternal and providential.

As for the hypothesis of a complete negation of all theft, of all tyranny, of every illusion of the Catholic and religious mind, it is the highest utopia, it is a nonbeing!…

Community, Materialism, is chaos, the nothingness of thought, death.

Justice is only a lie, an impossibility; what is necessary is a mutual tolerance, a charity,–a reciprocal pardon of injuries, which constantly washes the governmental, tyrannical and religious guilt.

A perpetual transaction, without which society is impossible. No constitution with which one cannot batter the people or the government. No religion that does not lead to a hideous quietism, to an infernal simony. No commerce that does not contain a fraud.–

I will demonstrate all of that.

In any case, I will begin by describing what is best known in the movement of humanity.

The human species being given, with its essential necessities of tyranny, theft and mental alienation, – the necessity of eternal struggle against its own essence [is also given];–

Describe the laws of that struggle.–

Thus, the stable point in humanity is the laws of movement, the laws that preside over instability itself.

It is starting from this stable point that we arrive at some conceptions of practical fraternity, of mutual amnesty [178], that we conceive the dogma of pardon and expiation. Thus we have the last word of Society, a word that is also the first: Love, fraternity and charity, consequently devotion. The cult of humanity!

Reason cannot give exact results.

As numbers cannot resolve certain problems, logic, rational instrumentation, cannot give complete satisfaction to Justice.

So justice becomes charity? – If we cannot love one another, let us be slaves of one another.

Political economy, science of approximation.

Jurisprudence, idealism more than realism.

Morals is the worship of ourselves and of those close to us, consequently charity rather than rule; counsel more than precept; still an ideal.–

Everything carries man to the ideal. – He is more than a reasoning animal; – Reason is only good for making us devour one another.

On all these points, it is necessary to take communion with the Communists: Community, ideal of humanity, is hell, as soon as it is reduced to theory and precepts.

Thus, do not await the science of absolute and integral solutions: there is none.

Limit ourselves to determining each day the practical thing, make up for the rest with love and devotion.

Thus, to cultivate love and devotion, tend to education, and cast off absolutist and intolerant doctrines.

__________

Conclude with these laws and these facts:

  • the necessity for the respect of transactions,
  • the necessity for patience,
  • scorn for ignorant agitators,
  • the sovereignty of CONSCIENCE, superior to Reason.–

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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On the necessity of following the revolution

[From Proudhon’s Carnets]

Necessity of renouncing every utopia, every system, and of following the revolution. If not, nothing.

There are Communists who still say every day: I am a communist first, a revolutionary after.

— I have not, after February, proposed the abolition of property, although I have posited and confirmed on several occasions that proposition: Property is theft.

Neither have I proposed to the equality of wages, of consumption, and of all goods: although I have constantly repeated that absolute equality is the law of society, because it is its tendency.

That is because we do not make revolution with dialectics. It is because the Philosophy of history and the transcendent speculations of economics science do not make revolutionary practice.

Philosophy and economic science see beyond every revolution; but precisely because of this the superior conclusions of philosophy and science are inapplicable to any individual revolution.

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REVOLUTIONARY PRACTICE.—Propositions (1851)

Carnet 8, 322

REVOLUTIONARY PRACTICE.—Propositions:

  1. Every revolution is caused by the displacement of interests;
    the oscillation of ideas;
    the exhaustion of an ideal.
  2. These three causes do not form a triad: the first two are correlatives of one another; — the 3rd is an addition of the mind: (the first two are objective; the 3rd subjective).
  3. The Ideal is the infinite in thought.
  4. It demands a real and intelligible basis.
  5. It strays from it endlessly.
  6. There is a tendency of the mind to give the ideal an ontological value apart from its basis; to affirm as reality what had at first been conceived as ideal.
  7. God, freed from speculative theories, is the affirmation of a higher ideal and an existence superior to man and nature.
  8. That affirmation is without foundation.
  9. That affirmation is illogical and contradictory.
  10. However, Humanity has need of a supreme ideal, which serves it as rudder and motor, and which is at the same time a reality; — there is something in God. —
  11. That ideal cannot be found outside of it; — (God is worn out, ridiculous, absurd); it must be found within it.
  12. So it changes its nature: it is the infinite, or rather the indefinite, in the life of Humanity, in its size, its composition, etc.

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