Category Archives: Theory of Property

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:

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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.]

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Moving forward with “The Theory of Property”

screen-shot-2014-05-10-at-11-17-05-amI’ve been spending some quality time with the manuscript of Proudhon’s The Theory of Property, now that it is available through the Ville de Besançon site, and it’s been a fascinating experience. Having spent a lot of time with the published version over the last few years, there were a lot of moments when I could look at a page and, once I had deciphered the handwriting, could immediately place the manuscript material in the published work. On my first pass through, the page where Proudhon proclaims that “Humanity proceeds by approximation” jumped out at me. Given the importance of that particular passage in the development of my work on Proudhon and mutualism, encountering it in the manuscript was a real treat. I was also amused to find that Proudhon apparently anticipated me by almost a century and a half on another important point, scribbling what what can only be the “two guns” of mutualism in the margins of the manuscript.

I’ve started the work of matching manuscript pages to published pages, and it’s been pretty straightforward work so far. The bulk of the work is there, in roughly its published form. The major summaries from the concluding chapter and the outline for the survey of the previous works also seem to be present. There is a lot of painstaking word-by-word comparison to be done, but I am leaning more and more towards the belief that Langlois and Co. were pretty faithful in their treatment of the manuscript.

The most interesting surprise has been that there are apparently at least a few pages, and potentially more than a few pages, of Proudhon’s writing on property that did not find a place in the published work. It isn’t clear whether there will be much worth transcribing and translating in his historical notes, but there are a few pages on intellectual property that refer back to Les Majorats littéraires, which should probably be included as an appendix.

For those unfamiliar with the controversies surrounding The Theory of Property, or my previous writing on the subject, here are some highlights:

My very rough draft translation of the work is available in the Libertarian Labyrinth archive.

I have a few more of the manuscript writings on property to consult, and then I can begin to really clean up that translation. Then, perhaps, it will be time to talk about publishing the whole series.

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