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Proudhon on Land Value Taxation

[This was written for the C4SS exchange on occupancy-and-use land tenure and refers to the recently posted “General Summary” from The Theory of Taxation.]


Those who have read all the contributions to this conversation so far might well marvel at how many different Proudhons had been invoked in its course. I think all of us are still in the blind man and the elephant stage with Proudhon, to some extent at least. His writings pose remarkable difficulties, beginning with the difficulty of even knowing what genre of writing we are dealing with at a given moment. Historical accounts mix with theoretical analyses and practical approximations, and even the most extensive of his writings tend to have an occasional, journalistic quality as well. To cite an extreme case, if we are to take his account at face value, then the six volumes of Justice in the Revolution and in the Church are a response to a biographical slight. Add to these stylistic complexities the complexities of his analysis, the often hidden debts to other, sometimes even more difficult or obscure figures, the volume of his output, Proudhon’s key position in almost two centuries of political debate (in which he has been represented by adversaries at least as often as admirers), the lack of translations and the unpublished state of some key writings. It is no wonder that there is not much in the way of consensus. But some approaches to Proudhon’s work are arguably more useful than others, and it seems worthwhile to at least suggest some of the issues that separate the various perspectives, since Proudhon’s name has been repeatedly invoked.

There are ultimately two general strategies used when navigating the complexities and possible contradictions within Proudhon’s work: we either assume that the works are more complete than consistent or that they are more consistent than complete. In the first case, I mean that we treat the works as if we can safely pull passages from them, or pull individual works from the ensemble, and be fairly certain that we know what those selections mean. When our isolated readings seem to be contradicted, the tendency is to assume that it is Proudhon who was contradictory, perhaps with a wave of the hand at the importance of contradiction or antinomy in his work. We find plenty of extreme cases of this strategy in the anarchist literature, where Proudhon often serves primarily as a source of bons mots. And some of the confusions can simply be attributed to bad scholarship, but others are the natural fruit of real difficulties in the body of Proudhon’s work. The second strategy involves a working assumption that Proudhon, who was indeed very concerned with various sorts of contradiction, might at least deserve the benefit of the doubt when things don’t immediately add up for us as readers. There are facts about Proudhon’s development as a thinker and writer that may not endear him to us as an accessible or “systematic thinker,” but which we probably have to take into account. We know, for example, that he considered his work divided between critical and constructive periods, and that he made major about-faces, first with regard to the language of “property” and “possession,” and then with regard to the concepts themselves. We know that he understood some of his published works as parts of larger works, some of which remained unfinished or remain unpublished. We know that he sometimes wrote as if he had explained his keywords, when that was very much not the case. We know that the “classic” English translation are pretty good, except in one case, that of The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, where the fear of contradiction obscures important clues to Proudhon’s understanding of anarchy. All of those facts, verifiable, I think, through existing translations and commentary, urge a certain degree of caution when we are attempting to make bold claims about Proudhon’s general project. That said, let me be bold enough to say that my own reading of a large number of Proudhon’s works suggests to me that that, while we should not blind ourselves to the few real contradictions in those works, the second strategy is almost always the more productive one, and we should be prepared, if we invoke Proudhon, to ground our interpretations in at least a basic understanding of his overall project and its development.

Given the complexities, any claim about what position was “nearest Proudhon’s original intentions” comes with a good deal of risk involved. Despite the conscientious assembly of supporting passages, Will Schnack’s argument that “community capture of economic rent was a part of Proudhon’s plan all along” winds up being only partially correct, for some of the same reasons that Kevin Carson’s use of Proudhon is a little less than satisfying.

If we want to talk about Proudhon’s views on property and taxation, we arguably have to at least touch on his work in the 1860s. Proudhon published his Théorie de l’Impôt (Theory of Taxation) in 1861, the same year that he finished the bulk of his posthumously published Théorie de la Propriété (Theory of Property.) Both were written in the context of his last major, unpublished work, Pologne, (from which the books in that period on property, literary property and the federative principle were all offshoots.) This is the heart of Proudhon’s “constructive” period, and the books are full of interesting material—and sometimes surprising reversals, as he worked out some of the problems in earlier works.

The Theory of Taxation covers a lot of ground, as is common in Proudhon’s works, before settling down to a survey of the various forms of taxation. The last section of that survey, “Tax on Land Rent,” opens with a confirmation that Proudhon had indeed been interested in that form of taxation:

You will perhaps ask if the writer who so forcefully critiques both established customs and proposed reforms has never attempted to resolve the problem and dreamt up in his turn some little tax reform. As it is only fair, after having confessed the others, that I make my own confession, I will comply with good grace. I do not think that, in what I had published or imagined in the days before I encounter the appeal of the council of state of Lausanne, I had approached the truth much more than my predecessors, but I believe I had not descended so deep into error. Since in the matter of taxation every pretention to justice is inevitably utopian, this is what was once my utopia. I say mine, and I am incorrect. The first idea of taxation on land rent belonged to the Physiocrats; I have only presented it in the energy of its principle and the rigor of its consequences, with a considered knowledge of the subject, which was never in the mind of Quesnay, nor in the head of the Friend of Man, the Marquis de Mirabeau. [All translations are mine.]

He goes on to say that, of the various options, a tax on land rent is the best, but that no taxation scheme can solve the problems associated with property.

This amounts to saying that society has lacked the occasion to establish taxation on its true basis, and that in order to achieve that it would be necessary to prepare the terrain by a whole range of economic reforms, outside of which a tax on the rent would be, in the author’s own opinion, an upheaval.

Proudhon’s final proposal on taxation ultimately depended on a balance of different forms—which should surprise no one who has read much of the later Proudhon, where everything seems to depend on a balancing of independently objectionable practices and institutions. This is, for example, the sense in which property can finally become “liberty,” not because it has lost all of the character that originally made it “theft,” but because it can be balanced against itself and other institutions. In the balance of taxations, land rent was to become the “pivot,” but the result arguably looks very little like the Georgist or geoist proposals. Among the propositions in the conclusion we find:

That, under the influence of these two causes [movement of values and the rule that presides over the formation of prices], the incessant movement of values and the inequality of fortunes, the problem of the balancing of taxation is insoluble, and that all that we can obtain in this regard is reduced to an approximation;

That in order to return to Justice in taxation, the true method, the single and unique means is thus to work toward the equalization of fortunes themselves, something that does not depend on the initiative of the State, but solely on the intelligence and will of the citizens who consent to the tax;

That every attempt made in another direction in order to arrive at the equalization of taxation, either by a progressive tax, or by a tax on capital, or by a tax on rent or income, leads to absurdity and brings about enormous perturbations for public economy;

That a single tax, invariably resulting in the concentration in one single instance of all the fiscal iniquities divided in a multitude of taxes, would be the most crushing of taxes and the worst of systems;

That the true march to follow being, in the final account, to submit to the law, or, to put it more correctly, to the egalitarian tendency, the whole difficulty consists in turning taxation in that direction and organizing it in that spirit;

In the end, Proudhon’s proposal on taxation is that people learn to understand the tendencies of the various sorts of taxes and then apply them experimentally in their own specific contexts. The same would probably be a logical way of reading his last works on property as well. There is a sort of pluralism proposed here, but it is driven more by the need for balance—the heart of what Proudhon meant when he spoke of equality, justice, society and anarchy—than by specific principles of property or taxation.

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The Fundamental Laws of the Universe

[At various points in this series, which is still very exploratory, it will probably be useful to drop in excerpts or whole posts from other sources, like this post from Contr’un, April 24, 2014. A few of the terms may be unfamiliar, but they are all concepts that we will get around to soon in this series.]

What would it take to flesh out the federative theory of property hinted at in the last post? What exactly does it mean to say that “property can be understood as an instance of federation”? We’re starting from a provocative reading of bits and pieces from Proudhon’s later works, and leaning hard, for the moment, on a portion of the title of The Theory of Property that didn’t make it out of the manuscript, and we’re going to have to go beyond anything explicitly laid out in Proudhon’s work. Still, I don’t think the extrapolation I’m about to make should strike anyone who has been following the work here as particularly extreme—particularly given the extremities to which we’ll see Proudhon go along the way.

So let’s start with the idea of federation. Proudhon’s The Federative Principle may have been, as he claimed, a rapid sketch, but it was obviously an important one. In it, we find one of those professions of principle of which Proudhon was so fond:

All my economic ideas, developed over the last twenty-five years, can be defined in three words: agro-industrial federation; all my political views may be reduced to a parallel formula: political federation or decentralization; and since I do not make my ideas the instruments of a party or of personal ambition, all my hopes for the present and future are contained in a third term, a corollary of the first two: progressive federation.

There’s not a lot of room left for ambiguity there. The central place of federation in his thought is clear, and if we recall his other claim:

“…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…”

we know that mutualism and guarantism essentially occupy the same place.

As a concept, this mutualism-guarantism-federation is perhaps a little tough to grasp. The synonymy doesn’t really seem all that simple. But that not-so-simple synonymy turns out to be a problem with several layers, as we start to look again at the individual synonyms. If we look at the explanation of “the mutualist system” in The Political Capacity of the Working Classes we find a fairly representative example of Proudhon’s treatment of mutuality:

The French word mutuel, mutualité, mutuation, which has for synonyms réciproque, réciprocité, comes from the Latin mutuum, which means [a consumer] loan, and in a broader sense, exchange. We know that in the consumer loan the object loaned is consumed by the borrower, who gives the equivalent, either of the same nature or in any other form. Suppose that the lender becomes a borrower on his side, you would have a mutual service, and consequently an exchange: such is the logical link has given the same name to two different operations. Nothing is more elementary than this notion

Mutualism is thus a system of credit, in some sense, but as we look around a bit more it appears that we can’t just leap from this family of mutual ideas to, say, the Bank of the People or some understanding of credit that we’ve brought along with us. In fact, when we go back to the 1848 article on the “Organization of Credit and Circulation,” where it quite literally is a question of introducing the first version of the Bank of the People, we find Proudhon grounding his practical proposal in an exploration of the “fundamental laws of the universe,” one of which is reciprocity, mutuality’s synonym:

We need, however, no great effort of reflection in order to understand that justice, union, accord, harmony, and even fraternity, necessarily suppose two terms and that unless we are to fall in to the absurd system of absolute identity, which is to say absolute nothingness, contradiction is the fundamental law, not only of society, but of the universe!

Such is also the first law that I proclaim, in agreement with religion and philosophy: it is Contradiction. Universal Antagonism.

But, just as life supposes contradiction, contradiction in its turn calls for justice: from this the second law of creation and humanity, the mutual penetration of antagonistic elements, RECIPROCITY.

RECIPROCITY, in all creation, is the principle of existence. In the social order, Reciprocity is the principle of social reality, the formula of justice. Its basis is the eternal antagonism of ideas, opinions, passions, capacities, temperaments, and interests. It is even the condition of love.

RECIPROCITY is expressed in the precept: Do unto others what you would have others do unto you; a precept that political economy has translated in its famous formula: Products exchange for products.

Now the evil that devours us comes from the fact that the law of reciprocity is unknown, or violated. The remedy is entirely in the promulgation of that law. The organization of our mutual and reciprocal relations is the entirety of social science.

This is really pure Proudhon, writing like the best socialist philosophers of his era, swooping from one scale of concerns to another, and back again, so quickly and nimbly that you might miss it if you’re not expecting the maneuver. And these are the moments that, from my perspective at least, give us our clearest glimpses of just how much is going on in Proudhon’s thought. So, on the way to a practical proposal about credit, we get the first two “fundamental laws of the universe:” universal antagonism and mutual penetration of the antagonistic elements.
We’ve tended to see and remember that Proudhon thought reciprocity resembled the Golden Rule, and I’ve spent some time working out the most robust version of that principle that I can, but it’s been harder to incorporate all the other things that Proudhon said about reciprocity into our account of mutualism. What we have generally treated as an ethical principle is also, and perhaps primarily, an observation about how the world works, an observation about ontology. I think some reluctance to tackle the fundamental laws of the universe may be considered simply prudent. But those who have been reading along can perhaps see that I’ve been trying to pull these various threads together for quite some time, and that for roughly a year now I’ve had a sort of “Note to self” stuck up at the top of the page here.
The first law of the universe is Contradiction, Universal Antagonism, and we know it because everything important to us about being in the world seems to rely on something other than, and opposed to, “the absurd system of absolute identity.” So now we need to talk about identity (which will, necessarily, carry us back into the vicinity of property.) And, again, we have to recognize that we are not just, and perhaps not even primarily, talking about ethical precepts now. Identity leads us to antagonism because all of the ways that we identify identity seems to depend on something other than simple internal uniformity. Absolute identity is an illusion of authority, and the alternative is a sort of contr’un, which is always to some degree at war with itself (as a simple unity.) We can recall some of the ways that we have marked this non-simple character, in relation to human selves:
  • Proudhon: “Every individual is a group.”
  • Whitman: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

The second law is Reciprocity, Mutuality, which we understand is related to credit and exchange, and answers somehow to the provocative formula of “the mutual penetration of antagonistic elements,” all without ceasing to also resemble or invoke the Golden Rule. Identity exists between Universal Antagonism and Imminent Justice. (We might say: between War and Peace and Justice in the Revolution and in the Church.) If things are, on the one hand, always coming apart more than our sense of them as unique things easily accounts for, it appears that they are, on the other hand, always more mixed up together than we tend to think. There are comments in The Philosophy of Progress about the impossibility of separating the self and the non-self that undoubtedly speak to this general insight, but there is also the the whole theory of the collective force and collective beings.

The more you chase the references around in Proudhon’s work, the more the metaphors of love and war, science and commerce seem to all get mixed up together. But that’s often a good sign in his work, suggesting you’re closing in on something central. A full explication of all the textual concerns would be demanding, but the general idea isn’t terribly difficult. As Whitman said, we are “not contain’d between [our] hat and boots.” The business of possessing an individual identity involves us in a sort of constant borrowing and lending, which involves some overlapping, some interpenetrating which is at least antagonistic to the simpler ideas of identity. That naturally means it will have some consequences for any simple notions of property as well.

And this is really a point in the elaboration of Proudhon’s thought that we’ve reached quite a number of times. When we bring in Proudhon theory of collective individuals, with his judgment that we must always encounter other individuals as at least potentially our equals, and then add in his theory of rights:

RIGHT, in general, is the recognition of human dignity in all its faculties, attributes and prerogatives. There are thus as many special rights as humans can raise different claims, owing to the diversity of their faculties and of their exercise. As a consequence, the genealogy of human rights will follow that of the human faculties and their manifestations.

we end up with a cast of political characters that would be complicated under any circumstances, but which we must account for in ways that acknowledge all sorts of overlap and interpenetration—but without, in the process, retaining or introducing any sort of hierarchy.

In the next post, I want to retrace some of the same ground, while talking about the disposition of the products of labor, and we’ll be able to explore some specific applications of Proudhon’s theory, but for now I want to make sure we spend enough time with this notion of mutualism-guarantism-federation to be sure we’re really applying the right principle.

The two laws respecting identity give us a subject always in the midst of an antinomic play between various sorts of contradiction and various sorts of justice. And we should probably understand justice as a temporary reconciliation, taking the form of a balancing between interests between which we have no more defensible criterion of choice. With anarchy generalized, external constitution rejected, we have to work things out without recourse to any outside referee, whether that’s a state or a notion of what is “natural.” We naturally bring lots of experience—and we each bring unique portions of experience—to the encounter, and we equally naturally will not disregard the lessons of that experience, but there is always at least some degree of sheer incommensurability when we’re dealing with experience. That means, of course, that our balances will have no externally constituted scales, no predetermined standards of weights and measures. It is, after all, anarchy that we’re talking about. Presumably we knew what we might be getting into when we started down this road. But let’s let it all sink in. No external criteria means that it is all on us to work things out when there is conflict, and, if Proudhon is to be believed, conflict is the first of the fundamental laws of the universe. So there isn’t much room for passivity, at the same time there isn’t much chance of absolute certainty.

Being a subject already seems hard, and rising to the occasion of being an anarchist actor, worthy of the under such uncertain circumstances, that much harder. There is a reason that I started all of this exploration with the notion that a Proudhonian anarchism would necessarily be an “anarchism of approximation.” Things get harder when we add in the fact that we apparently have to negotiate approximations of justice with all sorts of actors that are radically different from us: other species, states, ecosystems, etc., etc., etc. And it isn’t going to be lost on us that many of those other actors are not what Proudhon called “free absolutes,” beings capable of reflection, or that, whatever their capabilities, most of them do not seem to be capable of negotiation.

From the perspective of the individual human actor, it might begin to look like there was an imbalance developing between rights and responsibilities—an emerging injustice. In federation, human individuals will have to find balance with collectivities of various scales, some of which they will also be “part of” (in the sense of contributing to their collective force) and some of which they will not. Guarantism will involve the development, not just of institutions, but of balances between individuals and institutions, again at a variety of scales. Identity and property theory will always have to deal with an open balance of debits and credits in all the places where we overlap, and the multiplication of individualities means a multiplication of potentially overlapping property claims, always at a variety of scales. I have yet to find anywhere in Proudhon’s work where he elaborates how his sense that something like “contract” and “negotiation” applies to our interactions will all sorts of things that can’t seem to negotiate and enter into contracts gets put into action. Given the puzzle we’re working through at the moment, however, I think we might suspect that had he explicitly expanded his analysis into, say, ecological matters, we probably would have found yet another “synonym” or analogous set of metaphors. But maybe the strongest argument for not simply balking at the difficulties is that the bulk of Proudhon’s work—the critiques of absolutism and governmentalism, and then the elaboration of the theories of justice and conflict—don’t leave us an awful lot of obvious alternatives to at least exploring a bit farther. Having complicated the question of identity, and thus pushing us towards notions of property that may be individual, but will have a hard time being anything but approximately exclusive, there isn’t any very stable ground left to retreat to, without simply chucking an awful lot of what makes up our rationale for anarchism.

There are, I think, lots of ways to expand the scope of human liberty beyond the status quo which do not involve quite so great a leap into the unknown.

The question (which we will no doubt return to again and again) is whether any of them are really worth calling anarchism


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All Actors Are Collective Actors: The Unity-Collectivity

Every individual is a group. There are a small number of key concepts in Proudhon’s work, without which it is almost impossible to understand. The notion of the collective actor, or unity-collectivity, and that of the collective force with which it is imbued may top the list in terms of importance. Virtually everything else depends on this basic insight into the nature of unity. The logical contender for top spot would be the philosophy of progress, but it turns out that Proudhon really saw the two analyses as intertwined. While much of Proudhon’s 1853 work, The Philosophy of Progress, focused on questions of truth and certainty, we also find declarations that make it clear that those analyses were not separate from the analysis that led Proudhon to believe that “property is theft.” For example: “All that reason knows and affirms is that each being, like every idea, is a GROUP.”

There is a general principle being asserted here: unity, in whatever sphere we encounter it, is not simple, but is always a matter of converging forces and multiple elements. We’ll keep exploring aspects of this principle, and its various consequences, but for now let’s stay fairly close to the notions of property and theft.

Property, in its simplest form, is what is proper to a given individual. The notion of the proper at least potentially covers a lot of ground, from what is appropriate to the individual to what is a part of the individual or what is owned by the individual. All of the various things that can be considered my own fall within this broad sort of proper-ty. I want to insist on the individual character of property, if only to challenge the narrow range of things that we are accustomed to consider individual. If every individual is a group, then what defines individuality is not singleness, but a particular sort of relation between multiple elements. Proudhon gave that relation a number of names, each highlighting an aspect of the relationship, but perhaps it is enough to suggest that the elements of an individuality are closely enough associated to manifest a shared pattern or “law” of development (at least within some sphere of existence) and that their relationship is balanced and non-hierarchical. There is, to use one of Proudhon’s favorite keywords, a kind of justice among the elements.

We’ll come back to these concerns, but let’s see what happens when we try to map out the property of particular individuals.

Think of the work group from the first post. The 1000 workers add up to at least 1001 individuals, and the more complex their organization in the workplace the more individuals we should probably recognize. And the unity-collectivities that we recognize in the workplace are only some of the individualities that these workers will find themselves contributing elements to, with these other unity-collectivities ranging in scale from close friendships and families to universal wholes, perhaps on a larger scale than we can imagine. And the workers themselves are collectivities. Any attempt to map out the mine and thine of the situation—which is, after all, the most common use of the notion of property—is going to run into a problem: while there will be no shortage of clearly individual property, there will be very little that we can consider exclusive to any given individual. We’re quite simply going to find that, without some convention to strike some new, mutually constructed balance, the various spheres of individual property will overlap in overwhelmingly complex ways.

I will have repeated recourse to two phrases from the poetry of Walt Whitman, which seem to capture the two truths about property introduced by this notion that individuals are always groups:

“I am large, I contain multitudes.”

“I…am not contain’d between my hat and boots”

The individuality of the individual does not preclude, and in fact presupposes, the individuality of constituent elements, the “multitudes” contained by the individual. And as those constituent multitudes participate in the unity-collectivity that is our self, as the workers participate in the unity-collectivity that is the work group or firm, we participate in unity-collectivities of various sorts—including many still organized along authoritarian lines, within which the collective force to which we contribute is captured and appropriated by some usurping class of elements and used against us.

In his economic manuscripts, Proudhon took some steps toward generalizing the analysis of capitalist exploitation in What is Property? to include parallel sorts of exploitation in the realm of government. He might well have gone farther, at least to recognize the similar dynamic at work in the family. (See my post on “The Capitalist, the Prince, the Père de famille, and the Alternative” for some thoughts in that direction.) We can certainly go that far, but we should perhaps also go considerably farther. One of the intriguing possibilities of Proudhon’s social science in our own time is that it might help us to wrestle with the sorts of issues we seem unable to quite come to terms with using the tools of “identity politics,” “privilege theory,” etc. We will move slowly but surely towards that sort of application, but not before we spend a bit more time clarifying some basics.

For those who have not read it, this might be a good time for a first reading of my essay “Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: Self-Government and the Citizen-State.” If you’ve read it before, but feel like you need some clarification, another read probably wouldn’t hurt. There are really only a few key principles in Proudhon’s work, but, in part because of that relative simplicity, it takes some real work to get a firm grasp on their application.

Further Reading: The Fundamental Laws of the Universe

Next: Justice and Equality

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Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: Self-Government and the Citizen-State

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon:
Self-Government and the Citizen-State[1]

Shawn P. Wilbur


[The State] is itself, if I may put it this way, a sort of citizen…”

—Pierre-Joseph Proudhon[2]


For more than a hundred years, anti-statism has been a key principle of anarchism. But this was not always the case. A search of English- and French-language sources suggests that for much of the nineteenth century, the term “statism” (or “étatisme”) did not have its present meaning. In the political realm, it simply meant “statesmanship.” As late as the 1870s, the American anarchist Stephen Pearl Andrews used the term to mean “a tendency to immobility,” without apparent fear of confusion, and the American Dental Association considering adopting Andrews’ coinage, apparently without fear of entering political territory.[3]

Anarchism emerged as a political philosophy in the first half of the nineteenth century, when much of the modern political lexicon was still being established. “Individualism,” “socialism,” and “capitalism” all seem to date from the 1820s or 1830s, and their early histories are entangled with that of “anarchism,” a term we generally date from 1840, and which was initially defined in terms of its anti-authoritarian or anti-governmental critique. Of course, the relatively late appearance of the term anti-statism does not itself tell us much about the history of the associated critique. We know, however, that at least some of the participants in the anarchist movement considered the emergence of anti-statism as both a real departure from the existing anti-governmental critique—and as a misstep. In 1887, for example, more than twenty years after the death of anarchist pioneer Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Frédéric Tufferd wrote:

The most incredible confusion is that between the government and the State. I am an anarchist, as Proudhon was, for like him I want to abolish government, the principle of authority in the State, in order to replace it by an responsible and controllable administration of the public interests; but I do not want, with Bakunin, to abolish the State. The word State comes from stare, to hold, to persist; the State is thus the organized collectivity. Just as the commune is the local collectivity, the State is the national collectivity which has lasted, lasts, and will last as long as the nation itself.[4]

For Tufferd, socialists faced a choice between dividing over speculations on the nature of the State, God, etc., or uniting around a science focused on social relations. As he understood the terms of the “confusion,” government was any relation on the basis of the “principle of authority,” which could, indeed, shape particular States, but which was ultimately separable from the State as such. The State was merely a persistent manifestation of society.

This was quite different from the view which ultimately united much of the anarchist movement in opposition to the State as such. Almost from the beginning there had been those who felt that a decisive break had to be made with existing institutions. Not all were as extreme as, for example, Ernest Coeurderoy, who claimed that liberty could not come to European civilization unless it was first destroyed by the Cossacks, but many in the movement believed that very little of the present social organization could be allowed to persist. Certainly Bakunin—the representative figure, for Tufferd, of the anti-statist school—held government and the State to be entwined, and both to be impediments to anarchy.[5]

Despite their differences, however, both schools of thought could claim, with at least some justification, a descent from the work of Proudhon. Their specific inspirations were simply drawn from different periods of his career. Proudhon’s thoughts about the State appear, at least at first glance, to have run a wide gamut. At times, he had been its staunchest opponent, calling for its entire abolition. In 1848, during the Second Republic, he asked: “Why do we believe in Government? From whence comes, in human society, this idea of Authority, of Power; this fiction of a superior Person, called the State?”[6] Yet, in 1861 he claimed that “the State, as the Revolution has conceived it, is not a purely abstract thing, as some, Rousseau among them, have supposed, a sort of legal fiction; it is a reality as positive as society itself, as the individual even.”[7] He went so far as to describe the State as “a species of citizen.”

Could the State be in some sense a fiction? And, if so, could the same State also be, in some sense, a reality, a being of sorts, as real as the human individual? Proudhon answered both questions in the affirmative, and in terms which only require some clarification to render consistent. During the period of the Second Republic, he argued that the real power attributed to the State was legitimated by a false account of relations within society, and he waged an unrelenting war against that fundamental political fiction—but also against all other governmentalist accounts, which posited the necessity of a ruling authority outside and above the equal associations of individuals. Then, during the Second Empire, having swept aside, at least to his own satisfaction, that false account of the composition and realization of society, he began to advance an alternate account, in which he found that government and the State were indeed separable, and that the non-governmental functions of the State, though modest in comparison to those attributed to its authoritarian forms, served vital roles in society—even when the political forms of society approached anarchy.

Between the two periods, Proudhon himself identified a watershed corresponding to his own “complete transformation:” “From 1839 to 1852, I have had what is called my critical period, taking this word in the lofty sense it is given in Germany. As a man must not repeat himself and I strive essentially not to outlive my usefulness, I am assembling the material for new studies and I ready myself to soon begin a new period I shall call, if you like, my positive period or period of construction.”[8]

Proudhon’s claim was perhaps hyperbolic, since transformation was for him something of a constant process. Elsewhere, in what is perhaps a more satisfactory account, he characterized himself as “the man whose thought always advances, whose program will never be accomplished.”[9] But he was quite correct in pointing to separate critical and constructive analyses, each predominating at different times in his work, which can serve us to distinguish—and ultimately to explore the relations—between two aspects of his theory of the State.

What follows is a roughly chronological examination of Proudhon’s developing understanding of the State, including accounts of the two analyses already noted. The first of these is an account of critical analysis of the governmentalist State, as Proudhon presented it in a series of published debates with Louis Blanc in 1849. The second is an exploration of some of the developments that he gave to his theory of the State in his later writings—in his 1858 masterwork, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, and in a number of other texts from the 1860s, including War and Peace, The Theory of Property, and The Federative Principle. Between these two studies it will be necessary to pause, as Proudhon did in his own career, for an examination of his early studies, in order to clarify the extent to which his later conception of the State grew directly from the earlier work. We’ll end by revisiting the “confusion” that concerned Tufferd, and consider the potential lessons of the largely neglected conclusions of Proudhon’s second analysis of the State.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon emerged as a public figure—and launched the modern anarchist movement—in 1840, when he published What is Property? To the question posed in the title, he proposed the infamous response: “Property is theft!” The work was hardly a political manifesto, and it would, in any event, be some years before the anarchist movement consisted of more than a small, heterodox collection of Proudhon’s fellow-travelers. Instead, it was a collection of critiques of existing property conventions, and the “Psychological Exposition of the Idea of Justice and Injustice, and a Determination of the Principle of Government and of Right,” in which Proudhon declared “I am an anarchist,” was not exactly an afterthought, but it was certainly written for non-anarchist contemporaries, rather than those who would eventually be his ideological heirs. Still, Proudhon defined anarchy in fairly clear and simple terms, as the “absence of master, of sovereign,” and declared that it was “the form of government which we approach every day.” Anarchy would come by means of a shift from rule by authority, or will, to a condition in which “the legislative power belongs to reason alone, methodically recognized and demonstrated.” Under these circumstances, “as the opinion of no one is of any value until its truth has been proven, no one can substitute his will for reason,—nobody is king.”[10] Proudhon distinguished this political order—sometimes designated by the English term self-government—from even those sorts of democracy for which it is claimed that “everyone is king,” as he believed that the multiplication of sovereign wills still differed from the dethroning of will in politics altogether.

Proudhon followed his book on property with others on the same subject, and soon found himself the object of both considerable notoriety and government prosecution. He was only saved from imprisonment because it was argued that he was merely a philosopher. For much of the 1840s, he did indeed concentrate on philosophy and social science, establishing himself as something of a rival to the “utopian” socialists Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Pierre Leroux and Etienne Cabet. But events in France would eventually lead him to an active political life.

During the Second Republic, Proudhon had direct incentives to think about the nature of the State itself. In the debates surrounding the form and direction of the French republic many revolutionary options no doubt seemed possible,[11] as well as any number of catastrophic failures, and Proudhon was not only drawn into the political conversation but into the government itself, serving in the constituent assembly from June 1849 until March 1849. He proposed programs and legislation. His work on property languished somewhat, while he established the theoretical basis and eventually the institutional apparatus for his Bank of the People, a currency reform project based on “free credit.”[12] He enjoyed a wide notoriety, but faced consistent opposition on most fronts. His career as a statesman ended when his immunity from prosecution was lifted and he was imprisoned for insults to president Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. In prison, he continued to be intensely involved in the political discussion, writing books and articles analyzing the failure of the 1848 revolution, and it was during this period that he engaged in the very public debate with fellow socialists Louis Blanc and Pierre Leroux on the “nature, object and destiny” of the State.

The 1849 debate on the State was a surprisingly public affair, a debate between socialist philosophers so well publicized that early in 1850 La Mode, a popular magazine, could publish a one-act play, “The Feuding Brothers,” which was little more than a parodic report of the debate, cobbled together from quotes in the popular. The anonymous author of the farce could assume a fairly high degree of familiarity with the details, in large part because the French Revolution of 1848 had transformed socialist philosophers into men of state. The whole world was watching the developments within the Provisional Government of the Second French Republic, where the most important sorts of questions were being discussed among representatives whose preferred systems ranged from anarchy to the restoration of the constitutional monarchy.

Between Proudhon and Leroux, there seems to have been almost complete agreement on most of the substantive issues, although this didn’t prevent them from making outrageous accusations and calling one other the most bizarre names. Between Blanc and Proudhon, however, the lines were clearly drawn. For modern readers, the most striking aspect of the exchange might be the obvious animosity between the two men. Proudhon referred to the “the “the avowed, cordial hatred of Louis Blanc,”[13] while Louis Blanc, reprinting his contributions some years later, felt the need to suppress some passages that “was marked by too much vehemence and does not deserve to figure in a discussion de principles.”[14] But there were also a clear clash of principles.

Blanc’s account of the State was a progressive one, assuming an evolution through forms of “tyranny,” followed by a democratic transformation to the “reign of liberty.”

“What is the State?” asks Louis Blanc. And he replies:—

“The State, under monarchical rule, is the power of one man, the tyranny of a single individual.

“The State, under oligarchic rule, is the power of a small number of men, the tyranny of a few.

“The State, under aristocratic rule, is the power of a class, the tyranny of many.

“The State, under anarchical rule is the power of the first comer who happens to be the most intelligent and the strongest; it is the tyranny of chaos.

“The State, under democratic rule, is the power of all the people, served by their elect, it is the reign of liberty[15]

At the end of its evolution, Blanc claimed, the State would be “nothing other than society itself, acting as society, to prevent… what? Oppression; to maintain… what? Liberty.”[16] There had been master-States, he said, but in the democratic regime the State would be a servant.

Proudhon naturally challenged the characterization of the anarchic regime, but he also questioned the apparent sleight of hand by which the tyranny of the State in all its other forms became liberty when in the hands of democratically elected officials. He claimed that Blanc, and the other proponents of the State, did not really believe in a society that could act as society, insisting instead on the necessity of the State, which he characterized as “the external constitution of the social power.” His opponents believed “that the collective being, that society, being only a being of reason, cannot be rendered sensible except by means on a monarchic incarnation, aristocratic usurpation, or democratic mandate.”[17] Proudhon, on the contrary, believed that this “collective being” had a real existence, strongly analogous to that of the human individual: “in both cases, the will, action, soul, mind, and life, unknown in their principle, elusive in their essence, result from the animating and vital fact of organization.”[18] This was not simply an analogy for Proudhon, but an enduring part of his social science, which he was prepared to state in no uncertain terms: “We affirm, on the contrary, that the people, that society, that the mass, can and ought to govern itself by itself; to think, act, rise, and halt, like a man; to manifest itself, in fine, in its physical, intellectual, and moral individuality, without the aid of all these spokesmen, who formerly were despots, who now are aristocrats, who from time to time have been pretended delegates, fawners on or servants of the crowd, and whom we call plainly and simply popular agitators, demagogues.”[19]

In his response, Blanc did not challenge Proudhon’s account of society as a collective being, but he objected that it was incomplete: “If this collective being of which the citizen Proudhon declares the existence is anything but a collection of senseless syllable, it must be realized. But the collective being realized is precisely the State.” Altering the argument slightly, Blanc said that society might form an organized, unified body, but that it would lack unity if it lacked the State, which he likened to the human head.

The analogy was not particularly apt. We probably wouldn’t say that the human body is “realized” by the head, or that the head was the site of its unity, even if we were convinced that the State was a real “organ” of society—unless, of course, we believed that the body was unorganized without the direction of something like a soul. Proudhon seized on this element of the argument, referencing Descartes’ attempts to find a site for the soul in pineal gland.

For Proudhon, there could be no equivocation between beings capable of self-government and those animated by some external force or principle. Every attempt to combine the two accounts would involve a fatal contradiction, and this was inevitable in any defense of States organized according to the principle of authority. No doubt, Proudhon admitted, those contradictory States were inevitable in the evolution of society, but in the end the fiction of authority would be overcome. “Anarchy,” he said, “is the condition of existence of adult societies, as hierarchy is the condition of primitive societies: there is an incessant progress, in human societies, from hierarchy to anarchy.”[20]

The debate over the aim or object of the State simply clarified the arguments concerning its nature. According to Proudhon, the governmentalists believed that in the absence of a State society would be in a constant state of internal warfare. For Proudhon, a collection of individuals in constant warfare would simply not constitute a society. In this instance it would indeed be society which was fictive, and we might ask ourselves how this warfare might give rise to the peaceful impulses which presumably would inform the rule or “realization” accomplished by the State. The divide between Proudhon and Blanc revolved around a choice between “internal” and “external constitution” of the society. Without the “realizing” element of the State, Blanc argued, society would just be a group of elements. In response, Proudhon argued that every individual is essentially a group of elements—but that in every individual worthy of the name the principle of association or realization, the only law the anarchist Proudhon was prepared to recognize, is inherent in and demonstrated by the association itself. There is self-government or there external imposition, and it matters little, in the long run, whether the imposing force is vested in one individual or many, or what we call those who wield the force. It is still tyranny.

On the question of the destiny of the State and the possibilities for its reform, Proudhon had very little room for optimism. What he objected to in the State was not, according to his present understanding of the terms, an inessential part of it, but its very essence, its external position with regard to society. Some States might be more or less objectionable in their impositions on society, but the point, for Proudhon, was to cease imposing any order on society which was not its own order, derived from its own internal law. Proudhon wanted neither master-States nor servant-States, just as he wanted neither masters nor servants. As he had not yet found the grounds on which to deal separately with government and the State, that left him with no option by to reject the State entirely.

Imprisoned until after the coup d’état, Proudhon was poorly positioned to effect the course of the republic, but, like many political prisoners, he made the most of his incarceration. His debate with Leroux and Blanc had been preceded by the Confessions of a Revolutionary, a critical history and personal indictment of the French Revolution of 1848, and it was followed by The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, in which he sought to argue for the possibility, even the necessity of a new revolution. His anti-governmentalist critique—and perhaps his entire “critical” phase—reached its crescendo in the “Epilogue” of the latter work, in what has become one of his most famous passages:

To be governed is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so…. To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality. And to think that there are democrats among us who pretend that there is any good in government; Socialists who support this ignominy, in the name of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity; proletarians who proclaim their candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic! Hypocrisy![21]

This is the anti-governmentalist faith that he never abandoned, and the aspect of Proudhon’s thought which has been consistently honored by the anarchist tradition. But the Republic was nearing its final crises in 1851, and the context for Proudhon’s critique would change dramatically with the emergence of the Second Empire.

With the coup d’etat, the legislative conversation was abruptly closed, and Louis Napoleon’s regime was not accommodating to dissenting voices, rewarding them not just with censorship, but sometimes with imprisonment or exile. Like many others, Proudhon gradually adapted, or, as he put it, he “transformed.”

He had said that “a man should not repeat himself,” but the truth is that by 1852 he had probably repeated his critique to just about every audience available to him: the people and his fellow socialists, in a series of publications; his fellow legislators; the bourgeoisie, in The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century; and even the emperor Louis Napoleon, in The Social Revolution, Demonstrated by the Coup d’État of December 2. But Proudhon found himself increasingly limited in what he could publish in France, and fairly quickly found himself in exile in Belgium.

It would not be hard to imagine, given the events surrounding Proudhon’s development, how someone who identified as an anarchist in 1840 might have come to terms with the State in the context of the Second Republic, and then come to reject it again as a result of political disappointment and persecution. We could also, no doubt, understand if imprisonment and exile had dampened the ardor of a political activist. Proudhon’s evolution is perhaps a little more difficult to understand.

By 1858, he had defined the terms of his constructive project:

I intend to suppress none of the things of which I have made such a resolute critique. 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.[22]

But this apparently mild-mannered program appeared in the midst of his Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, a massive frontal assault on the Church and continued critique of governmentalism, for which he once again faced prosecution—a work in which he declared, defiantly and a bit dramatically, “I am a sans-culotte”!

Without speculating unnecessarily on the factors which drove the “complete transformation” of the early 1850s, we can point to circumstances which undoubtedly played a role. Just as he was being forced into Belgian exile, Proudhon undertook a review of his philosophy, and in the course of that work quietly corrected some problems from the critical period.

In 1853, Proudhon published The Philosophy of Progress. The work took the form of two long letters to a French journalist who had asked him for a summary of his ideas, and they afforded an opportunity for Proudhon to bring together the various aspects of his previous work in a way which he had not done before. Much of the work was devoted to a consideration of “the criterion of certainty” in science and philosophy, and, to no doubt over-simplify a long and very interesting study, his conclusion was that little, if anything, was certain but change.

Indeed, finally pressed to explain himself, he condensed his project down to a single opposition and a single affirmation: “All that I have ever written, all that I have denied, affirmed, attacked, and combated, I have written, I have denied or affirmed in the name of one single idea: Progress. My adversaries, on the contrary—and you will soon see if they are numerous—are all partisans of the absolute…”[23]

This opposition, he believed, was a sort of skeleton key, not only to the works he had written, but to any work he might pursue:

If, then, I could once put my finger on the opposition that I make between these two ideas, and explain what I mean by Progress and what I consider Absolute, I would have given you the principle, secret and key to all my polemics. You would possess the logical link between all of my ideas, and you could, with that notion alone, serving for you as an infallible criterion with regard to me, not only estimate the ensemble of my publications, but forecast and signal in advance the propositions that sooner or later I must affirm or deny, the doctrines of which I will have to make myself the defender or adversary.[24]

This distillation of his project gave him a clear set of principles with which to set out on the next phase of his careers, and The Philosophy of Progress highlighted elements of his early works which might have otherwise gone unremarked. But as Proudhon consolidated his project around the notions of progress and the opposition to the absolute, some shortcomings of his early works may have presented themselves.

Arguably, some of the apparent single-mindedness of his opposition to concepts like property and the State, so admired by the anarchist tradition, was achieved by questionable terminological gymnastics. In the introduction to What is Property?, he contrasted his view with that of one of property’s defenders: “Mr. Blanqui recognizes that there are a mass of abuses, odious abuses, in property; for myself, I call property exclusively the sum of those abuses.[25] While this made for a bold statement, it also threatened to reduce the impact of his claim that property is theft. Even while arguing for the historical development of the notion of justice, he drew firm lines between himself and those who would construct similar accounts about property. In 1841 he distinguished his terminological approach from that of Pierre Leroux: “Thus, according to Mr. Leroux, there is property and property: the one good, the other bad. Now, as it is proper to call different things by different names, if we keep the name “property” for the former, we must call the latter robbery, rapine, brigandage. If, on the contrary, we reserve the name “property” for the latter, we must designate the former by the term possession, or some other equivalent; otherwise we should be troubled with an odious synonymy.”[26] However, he was unable to escape that “odious synonymy” in a number of his works, and as his analysis became more complex, he even began to exploit it, emphasizing the internal contradictions in many key concepts.

By the beginning of his constructive phase he had reached a point in his battle with the reigning concepts like “religion, government, and property” where he could allow them to retain their “patronymic names,” even when they assumed new forms, in order to highlight the action of progress. As a result, familiar terms may have meaning with only a family resemblance to those we know. Whether or not Proudhon himself underwent a “complete transformation” in the early 1850s, we are likely to lead ourselves astray if we do not acknowledge that at least his vocabulary was fairly substantially transformed.

In 1858, Proudhon published his Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, a work in four volumes, later expanded to six. In a series of studies within it, he contrasted the conception of justice advanced by the Catholic Church with an anarchic vision in which a vast array of interests would be balanced, without political hierarchy or governmental authority, in relations consistent with reason and science. The studies combined critical and constructive elements, with the theory of collective beings receiving a considerable amount of development.

In his early writings, Proudhon had adopted a sort of second-hand Hegelian dialectic, without having direct access to Hegel’s writings. He believed that human progress was achieved by the playing out of contradictions—which he called theses and antitheses, without otherwise conforming to the details of Hegel’s system—and he believed that when these terms were synthesized, the tensions between them was resolved. However, he had also incorporated elements of the serial analysis of Charles Fourier, and attempted to synthesize those influences in what he called a “serial dialectic.” It is safe to say that some tensions remained in his own construction, until he finally abandoned it in 1858, asserting that “The antinomy does not resolve itself… The two terms of which it is composed BALANCE, either between themselves, or with other antinomic terms.”[27] With this theory of antinomies as his guide, there was no longer any question of dramatic victories or defeats for ideas or forces. Instead, the only form of resolution was balance, and while Proudhon liked to talk about the scales [bascule] of justice, as he began to build a “true” social system by bringing more and more ideas into relation, the varieties of balance multiplied. In the work on Justice, the study on “Goods” ended with an incomplete catalog of more than a dozen sorts of economic antinomies to be balanced.

With no recourse to external governmental control, all of this balancing was necessarily to be achieved by individuals situated in the midst of this complex, evolving web of relationships. The interested beings would not, of course, be limited to individual human beings. In the study on the State, Proudhon reaffirmed his belief in “social beings,” on a range of scales from families and small workshops to nations and States.

He retraced the arguments of 1849, armed with a vast new body of historical data and contemporary political analysis. One brand new element was, however, featured prominently: a constructive notion of the State as another collective being. The “Small Political Catechism” which summarized the study began with the question: “Every expression conceals a reality; of what does the reality of the social power consist?” The answer was: “It is collective force.” Furthermore, “collective force being a fact as positive as individual force, the first perfectly distinct from the second, collective beings are as much realities as individual ones.”[28] This notion of collective force had been part of Proudhon’s theoretical apparatus since the work on property in 1840, where he used it to demonstrate that individual property could not emerge simply from social labor. In The General Idea of the Revolution he had invoked it to suggest limits on individual ownership of capital, based on whether the means of production in question would be employed individually or by some organized association of laborers. By 1849, the family and society had joined the list of collective beings manifesting one or more varieties of synergetic “force.” As Proudhon’s thought developed, the range of beings and manifestations of force to be reckoned with continued to multiply. It was perhaps inevitable that Proudhon would find something in all the manifestations associated with government and the State that he had to consider a reality.

The theory of the State that emerged in 1858 was still rather vague: “The State results from the gathering of several groups, different in nature and object, each formed for to exercise a special function and for the creation of a particular product, then assembled under a common law, and in an identical interest.”[29] If this State was to be understood as an individual, a “species of citizen,” there was still some elaboration to be made. Proudhon, however, was most concerned with showing that the role of the state would be “primarily commutative,” but “no less real” for that. All of the usual activities associated with states, the “works of public utility,” seemed to him to be “effects of the ordinary collective force,” with no natural or necessary connection to any structure of external authority. As examples of appropriate projects for his anti-authoritarian State, he discussed questions like general security and the provision of a circulating medium.

The work on Justice also presented an important evolution in Proudhon’s discussion of reason, the sole source of legislation in his anarchist vision. Collective reason emerged alongside collective force as a manifestation of collective being, and in the study on “Ideas” Proudhon described the special role that it had to play in safeguarding individual reason against the corrupting influence of the absolute. To simplify what is both a wide-ranging and occasionally puzzling discussion, we might simply observe, in this context, that as the force exerted by individuals in industry finds expression both in industrial organizations and in more strictly individual forms, the individual reason which is supposed to inform our self-government is expressed, if we may put it this way, by individuals as individuals, by collectives as individuals, and by individuals as parts of collectives. The anarchic self-government of a given society will have to be grounded in the balancing of those manifestations of reason, and the overlaps between individual and collective give us some clues to the mechanisms likely to be involved.

Proudhon himself, in talking about the “organ” of the collective reason, situated it everywhere that collective force might be found. This proliferation of reasons to be reckoned with perhaps served to combat the one real danger he foresaw need to protect against: “There is only one precautionto take: to insure that the collectivity consulted does not vote, as one man, by virtue of an individual sentiment that has become common….”[30] That danger was apparently real enough in Proudhon’s mind that, in a puzzling paragraph, he proposed a “special magistracy” to operate as “police of conversations and guardian of opinion.” The proposal was, however, without details, and in context it is hard to imagine how this “magistracy,” whether formal or figurative, could have been tasked to do anything but stave off premature agreement.[31] In any event, if Proudhon’s most ambiguous statements raise momentary questions about his entire opposition to government, there is no lack of unambiguous declarations affirming it. “Justice alone commands and governs,” he insisted, “Justice, which creates the power, by making the balance of forces an obligation for all. Between the power and the individual, there is thus only right: all sovereignty is rejected; if it denied by Justice, it is religion.” Beyond this self-government, guided by justice, society was “ungovernable.”[32]

There are a number of other details relevant to the theory of the State, scattered through the sprawling work on Justice. In a sort of delayed response to Blanc, Proudhon poked fun at the “monstrous idea” that others had possessed of “social being:” “it is like an animal of a mysterious species, but which, in the manner of all the known animals, must have a head, a heart, nerves, teeth, feet, etc. from that chimerical organism, which everyone strives to discover, they then deduce Justice, that is to say that we derive morality from physiology, or, as we say today, right from duty, so that Justice always finds itself placed outside of consciousness, liberty subjected to fatalism, and humanity fallen.”[33]

Another study provided a positive account of liberty, suggesting that freedom is not simply the absence of prohibition or restraint, but a quality inherent to the organization of beings, which is greater or lesser to the extent that the relations between them are complex and energetic—a notion that would form part of the rationale for Proudhon’s federalism. Long sections devoted to gender roles, and the proper role and constitution of the family have earned Proudhon a reputation for anti-feminism, but even beneath the genuinely reactionary social roles proposed there is a curiously radical notion that the “organ of justice” is located in a human relationship, rather than a human individual.

Proudhon developed his theory of the state in three works during 1861. War and Peace, probably the most interesting of the three, was a two-volume examination of the role of conflict in human history, demonstrating the means by which a proper understanding of war might lead to a just peace. It is a difficult, sometimes perplexing work, which has led some to treat Proudhon as a militarist, despite the fact that the book ended with the declaration that “humanity wants no more war.”[34] In it we find Proudhon working out the play of the antinomies on a large political stage, dealing with the interactions of States and peoples, mixing lessons drawn from history with more observations applicable to the theory that he was in the process of constructing.[35]

The work contained important statements about justice in general: “Justice is not a commandment made known by a higher authority to an inferior being, as is taught by the majority of writers who have written on the rights of the people; justice is immanent in the human soul; it is its deepest part, it constitutes its highest power and its supreme dignity.”[36] Where individual rights are concerned “Right, in general, is the recognition of human dignity is all its faculties, attributes and prerogatives. There are thus as many special rights as humans can raise different claims, owing to the diversity of their faculties and of their exercise.”[37] These various claims, however, are limited to the specific spheres in which the faculties are expressed, and must still be harmonized through a process of balancing. It’s clear that by this period in his career Proudhon had given the conventional language of political philosophy some fairly individual interpretations. If, as Proudhon claimed, all manifestations of individual or collective force bear their “rights” within them, then what we find in the theory of rights, and the notion of immanent justice, is really just a restatement of basic anti-authoritarian principles: equality is the basis of society and interests must be balanced.

It was in The Theory of Taxation, also published in 1861, that the citizen-State finally emerged. While primarily concerned with methods of public finance, the book contained a very brief section on the Relation of the State and Liberty, according to modern rights.” Despite its brevity, however, it is perhaps the most concise summary of Proudhon’s later theory of the State. The modern theory of rights, he claimed, “has done one new thing: it has put in the presence of one another, on the same line, two powers until now had been in a relation of subordination. These two powers are the State and the Individual, in other words the Government and Liberty.” He reaffirmed that the State had a “positive reality,” manifesting itself as a “power of collectivity,” issuing from the organized collective, rather than imposed on it from outside, and thus possessing rights—of the sort introduced in War an Peace—but no authority. He asserted that in a regime of liberty it too must be ruled, like the citizens, only by reason and by justice—because, as he put it, “it is itself, if I may put it this way, a sort of citizen.”[38] This image of the citizen-State, neither master nor servant, and located “on the same line” as the other citizens, may be the simplest characterization possible of Proudhon’s complex and elusive ideal for the State. Finally, Proudhon declared the State “the protector of the liberty and property of the citizens, not only of those who have been born, but of those who are to be born. Its tutelage embraces the present and the future, and extends to future generations: thus the State has rights proportional to its obligations; without which, what use would its foresight serve?”[39] The State was now as Tufferd described it, the thing that persisted and mediated the balancing of interests even between generations.

A third work, The Theory of Property, was substantially completed in 1861, although it was not published until after Proudhon’s death. It was controversial at the time of its publication, because the editors did not clearly mark their contributions to two summary sections left unfinished by the author.[40] It has been controversial for more recent readers, because it represented the final stage of Proudhon’s theory of property—a theory which evolved in some of the same surprising ways as his theory of the State. Indeed, those who knew his many writings on property should probably have been prepared for the development of this State-theory. He had hardly made his first, triumphant pronouncements about property’s defeat in 1840 when he began to make what we would probably recognize as a very early shift from critical to constructive concerns, raising the possibility that the same property that was “theft” was also “liberty,” if properly balanced by other forces,” by 1846. By 1848, Proudhon believed that “All that it is possible to do against the abuses or drawbacks of property is to merge, synthesize, organize or balance it with a contrary element…”[41] In The Theory of Property he was finally able to move beyond that impasse, by proposing the State as the counterbalancing power to individual property.

The work shows that he was far from having overcome all his misgivings about the State. “The state, constituted in the most rational and liberal manner, animated by the most just intentions, is none the less an enormous power, capable of crushing everything, all by itself, if it is not given a counter-balance.”[42] One of the useful powers of property was, somewhat ironically, a power to divide society, a power required because “[t[he power of the state is a power of concentration; give it freedom to grow and all individuality will soon disappear, absorbed into the collectivity; society will fall into communism; property, on the other hand, is a power of decentralization; because it is itself absolute, it is anti-despotic, anti-unitary; it is because of this that it is the principle of all federation; and it is for this reason that property, autocratic in essence carried into political society, becomes straightway republican.”[43]

Beyond the transformation of the despotic, fictive State into the citizen-State, difficulties and responsibilities still remained. “We have understood finally that the opposition of two absolutes—one of which, alone, would be unpardonably reprehensive, and both of which, together, would be rejected, if they worked separately—is the very cornerstone of social economy and public right: but it falls to us to govern it and to make it act according to the laws of logic.”

Through the 1860s, one of the dominant ideas in Proudhon’s thought was this notion of federation, which involved the decentralization of society and the organization of the parts in a mutual, horizontal manner, without relations of authority over one another. The Federative Principle, published in 1863, started with the premise that both the political and economic realms were doomed to content with irreducible antinomies: “It is a question of knowing if society can arrive at something settled, equitable and fixed, which satisfies reason and conscience, or if we are condemned for eternity to this Ixion’s wheel.”[44] For Proudhon, of course, it was again a question of balancing opposing forces and tendencies, and much of the text is devoted to exploring the details of that equilibration in various arenas.

Alongside reiterations of his warning to keep the power of the State in check, he clarified what he took to be the specific role of the state: “In a free society, the role of the State or government is par excellence a role of legislation, institution, creation, inauguration, installation; — it is, as little as possible, a role of execution.”[45] If collective beings were to have a special role in the division of political labor, it is natural that it would involve the identification of problems pertaining specifically to the collective aspects of society, but the non-governmental implementation of solutions to such problems could only fall back on the individuals that made up the collectivity. Perpetual social progress would guarantee a permanent role for entities like the State, but should they be allowed to fulfill beyond that to which they were especially suited, the balance of forces would be upset, and the hard-won stability of society sacrificed.

At the end of his life, Proudhon had come to think of federation as the practical key to achieving and maintaining justice—understood simply as balance—in all aspects of society:

All my economic ideas, developed for twenty-five years, can be summarized in these three words; Agro-industrial Federation.

All my political views come down  to a similar formula: Political Federation or Decentralization.

And as I make of my ideas neither a party instrument nor a means of personal ambition, all my hopes for the present and the future are expressed by this third term, corollary of the other two: Progressive Federation.[46]

Proudhon worked on his social science to the very end. In The Theory of Property, he had declared that “humanity proceeds by approximations,” positing a progress-without-end as an alternative to utopian blueprints, and he had on several occasions sketched out general “approximations” of his vision of an anarchist society, most notably perhaps in General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century. His final, deathbed work, The Political Capacity of the Working Classes,[47] was of a similar character, but written, with the benefit of Proudhon’s entire constructive development, specifically for the radical workers who would be Proudhon’s immediate ideological heirs. It provided concrete examples of how the various elements of Proudhon’s project, including the re-imagined State, might fit together in a free society.

Looking back over Proudhon’s writings on the State, it is clear that some aspects of his theory remained unfinished or unwritten at the time of his death, but it is also striking how much of what was written by this pioneering anarchist and social scientist has essentially been ignored by both traditions for more than a hundred years.  There are elements of Proudhon’s thought which are strikingly contemporary, including a sort of anti-foundationalism which many may be surprised to find in nineteenth works. There is also a novel approach to questions of the relationship between the individual and collective. Above all, perhaps, the importance of an adequate analysis of the institutions of property and the State, or the principles of liberty and authority, have not diminished in the time since Frédéric Tufferd confronted the socialist movement with a choice of paths. To acquaint ourselves with Proudhon is, if nothing else, to provide ourselves with long-forgotten options.


[1] Completed June, 2013. A German-language version of this essay will appear in the Staatsverständnisse series, published by Nomos, who hold the rights to the translation.

[2] Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Théorie de l’impôt, Paris: Dentu, 1861: 68.

[3] Bakunin was writing about “statism,” or its Russian equivalent, by 1870. Joseph Lane’s “An Anti-Statist Communist Manifesto” was published in 1887, and in the previous year the American individualist anarchist Benjamin R. Tucker had published a partial translation of Proudhon’s “Resistance to the Revolution” under the title “The State.”

[4] Frédéric Tufferd, “L’Union en socialisme,” Société nouvelle 2, No. 33 (septembre 1887): 224.

[5] See, for example, Mikhail Bakunin’s “La science et la question vitale de la revolution.”

[6] Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Confessions d’un Revolutionnaire, new ed., (Paris: Lacroix, 1876): 5.

[7] Théorie de l’impôt. 77.

[8] Proudhon, Correspondance, vol. 6, (Paris: Lacroix, 1875): 285-286.

[9] Proudhon, Philosophie du progrès: programme, (Bruxelles: Lebegue, 1853}: 22.

[10] Proudhon, Qu’est-ce que la propriété? (Paris: Prevot, 1841): 301-302.

[11] See, for example, Pierre Leroux, Projet d’une constitution démocratique et sociale (Paris: G. Sandré, 1848.)

[12] Proudhon’s key writings on credit are assembled in Solution du problème sociale (Paris: Lacroix, 1868.)

[13] Mélanges, tome iii, 30.

[14]Louis Blanc, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 (Paris: Marpon et Flammarion, 1880): 235. The personal aspects of the debate occasionally allow us a glimpse of the intimate lives of the participants. In his correspondence, Proudhon includes this curious detail. “While Louis Blanc accuses me of selling socialism, his framed portrait serves as the companion to mine in my wife’s bedroom! Could I refuse that place to the man who, despite the weakness of his deductions and his incompetence, best represents the governmental principle?…” Correspondance, Vol. 5 (Paris: Lacroix, 1875): 107.

[15] Mélanges, tome iii, 9-10.

[16] Louis Blanc, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 (Paris: Marpon et Flammarion, 1880): 236.

[17] Mélanges, tome iii, 11.

[18] Mélanges, tome iii, 13.

[19] Mélanges, tome iii, 12.

[20] Mélanges, tome iii, 9.

[21] Proudhon, Idée générale de la révolution au XIXème siècle, (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1851): 341-342.

[22] Proudhon, De la Justice dans la Révolution et dans l’Église, Tome III (Paris: Lacroix, 1868): 113.

[23] Philosophie du progrès, 19.

[24] Philosophie du progrès, 20-22.

[25] Qu’est-ce que la propriété, xviii.

[26] Proudhon, Lettre à Mr Blanqui sur la propriété: deuxième mémoire, (Paris: Prevot, 1841): 130.

[27] Proudhon, De la Justice dans la Révolution et dans l’Église, tome I (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1858): 353.

[28] Op cit., 480-481.

[29] Op. cit., tome I, 481.

[30] De la Justice dans la Révolution et dans l’Église, tome III, 119.

[31] The suggestion recalls Proudhon’s statement from 1840, where he proposed that questions of policy might be decided by the Academy of Sciences, to whom all citizens could appeal, on the basis of “departmental statistics.” The proposal has sometimes been mistaken for the creation of a “Department of Statistics,” presumably with authority to regulate on the basis of science, although that seems clearly at odds with the anarchistic self-government Proudhon was in the process of proposing. While the most authoritarian readings of these two passages are almost certainly incorrect, there is certainly something puzzling about them, and we know that Proudhon was not immune to proposing mechanisms arguably at odds with his goals. It was, after all, in the context of a very similar discussion of the “organ of justice” that he elevated the patriarchal family to a special place in his social theory.

[32] De la Justice dans la Révolution et dans l’Église, tome I, 495.

[33] De la Justice dans la Révolution et dans l’Église, tome III, 113.

[34] Proudhon, La guerre et la paix, tome iI (Bruxelles: Hertzel, 1861): 420.

[35] Lack of space prevents me from addressing some interesting material on relations between States. Readers are encouraged to consult Alex Prichard, Justice, Order and Anarchy (New York: Routledge, 2103) for an analysis of La Guerre et la Paix from the perspective of international relations.

[36] Proudhon, La guerre et la paix, tome i (Bruxelles: Hertzel, 1861): 199.

[37] Op. cit., 288.

[38] Théorie de l’impôt, 68.

[39] Op cit., 76-82.

[40] See Auguste Beauchery, Economie Sociale de P.-J. Proudhon (Lille: Imprimerie Wilmot-Courtecuisee, 1867.)

[41] Confessions, 228.

[42] Proudhon, Théorie de la propriété (Paris: Lacroix, 1866): 137.

[43] Op cit., 144.

[44] Proudhon, Du Principe fédératif (Paris: Lacroix, 1868): 40-41.

[45] Op cit., 54.

[46] Op cit.. 83-84.

[47] Proudhon, De la capacité politique des classes ouvrières (Paris: Lacroix, 1868.)


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Back to Basics (now that we may know a few of them)

Shawn P. WilburWelcome to the new, the last of my old Blogger sites to be integrated into the new Libertarian Labyrinth. It’s been just over a decade since I launched the blog In the Libertarian Labyrinth, which was not my first blog, but was the first dedicated primarily to anarchist history and theory. The site has had a number of other names along the way (Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth, Two-Gun Mutualism and the Golden Rule and Contr’un) and has migrated once, but the overall project has developed steadily, if sometimes in directions that couldn’t have been predicted ten years ago. The unpredictability was, however, something that I could predict at the time, as it was clear that, whatever we knew about mutualism at the time, it was undoubtedly dwarfed by what we didn’t know and still had to learn.

Let’s go back to almost the beginning of that blog, to Wednesday, June 22, 2005 and a post called “Confessions of a latter day mutualist:”

What is this Mutualism of which you speak?

I see that Kevin Carson has given me a rousing welcome to the neighborhood. I’ll try not to let him down. I see he counts me among the “free market anti-capitalists.” It’s a label i’ll happily embrace – at least as a partial description of my position. But the truth is that i’m a whole lot less interested in economics than some of my friends and comrades – and maybe a bit less interested than i should be, though i have done my fair share of slogging through the stuff – so defining myself in those terms seems like a little bit of an imposture. All labels have their limits. I’m a christian individualist poststructuralist socialist green market anarchist – i guess. Or something. . . .

Mostly, i call myself an anarchist, or a mutualist – depending on who i’m talking to, and how confusing or distracting the terms are likely to be in the context. There was a time, not all that long ago when mutualist was a term used very little among the generally left-anarchist company i was keeping. It struck me as a term used to keep folks like Proudhon carefully suspended about half in and half out of “proper anarchism.” It was also a nice way to say “individualist anarchism” without starting quite as many fights. There still aren’t very many of us who call ourselves mutualists, but at least now when we do so we only have to explain why we’re not automatically enemies of anarchism about half the time. Let’s hear it for progress.

I’m being a bit facetious, but, whatever you call them, the more individualistic and market-friendly early forms of anarchism pose all sorts of problems for contemporary anarchist ideologies – both right and left. Engaging with them takes us back to a time before the marxian coup in the First International remapped the political terrain, when socialism still meant little more than simultaneous concerns with social science and social justice. It’s hard to grasp the diversity of that International. Beyond the familiar assortment of folks from the labor movement, the cooperatives, Proudhonists, Marxists, Bakuninists and such, Stephen Pearl Andrews and the Woodhull sisters were part of an American section grounded in part in Andrews’ pantarchy and universology. William Batchelder Greene, the “American Proudhon,” was a member of a French-speaking Boston chapter which understood the work of the International as a continuation of that of the Knights Templar. Cabet’s Icarians were represented as well. You can imagine Marx tearing out his hair, wondering how he could get rid of half this crew. He worked it out eventually, of course, expelling the American English-speaking sections before he and Bakunin had a chance to duke it out. And while he was at it, Andrews and Greene continued to translate and disseminate Marx and Engels’ Manifesto.

I’ll be honest. The strange, promiscuous character of that First International fascinates me. All of the work that i’ve been doing on the history of anarchism and mutualism is aimed at getting a glimpse of some of the roads not travelled from that point to the present. It’s tempting to say that the breakup of the International was a sort of Tower of Babel incident for the broad socialist movement. Certainly, some form of common language was lost, as it rapidly became almost impossible to speak of a broad socialist movement – and largely remains so today. But the incident is also, and perhaps more compellingly, a sort of Babel-in-reverse. First, there was a clamor of voices, but there was also this fragile joint project, the International. And then there was a different sort of clamor, but not within the joint project, which had become rather narrow and German. We’ve played out at least some of the possible outcomes of this change in relations. And the historical debates about anarchism, socialism and capitalism have helped us to make some judgments about the inevitability of some of the less pleasant outcomes. There’s still a lot of historical spadework to be done to flesh out the genealogies of the various current anarchistic and socialistic currents, but there’s also the very difficult job of trying to grasp the character of the International in that earlier moment.

I guess i’m happy to call myself a mutualist because it positions me within a story that must reach back before the marxian takeover – to the extent that it’s possible to do so. Mutualism, for me, is necessarily identified with the sort of chaos-in-concert that seems to have characterized that early, broad socialism. My intuition is that if there are going to be mutualists again, in a sense that is meaningful – that gets some work done – we’ll have to learn to be pluralists, to relate to others despite the confusions of voices.

Right now, being a mutualist seems to involve being open, being committed to an experimental approach, embracing multiple, partial projects while we look for common ground. For that reason, the writing here will swoop wildly from high theory to minute concrete details. Hopefully, it will make for an interesting ride for all involved.

There is a great deal that has changed in the way that I talk about my project, but there is a lot there that is still very true about the work that I’m doing. For example, that “strange, promiscuous character” of the First International still fascinates me, and all the more as my work on Bakunin, Nettlau and the question of “anarchy without adjectives” has fleshed out my understanding of the issues. And the project of “reaching back” before the events that mark the start of so many anarchist histories is certainly well under way, as evidence by my work on “the Era of Anarchy.” But it has taken a long time to dig deeply enough into the early phases and later margins of anarchist history to give “mutualism” anything like the sort of definition and doctrinal elaboration that many people have expected. Indeed, in July, 2012, when I launched the original blog, the focus was still on what I was calling “The Mutualist’s Dilemma:”

People frequently tell me that they have trouble understanding what mutualism is, and how it relates to the rest of the anarchist tradition. I can sympathize. Mutualism is, at once, the earliest form of the explicit, continuous anarchist tradition, and one of its newest variations. In between its first flowering and its most recent rediscovery, most of what we think of as the history and development of anarchism has occurred.

To call ourselves “mutualists” in the early 21st century is to take our place in a tradition which reaches back into the mid-19th century, the roots of which are the roots of the anarchist tradition, but the anarchist tradition has been rather ambivalent and forgetful about its roots, so rather than grounding the modern mutualist somewhere near the heart of the anarchist project, I think many of us feel we’ve climbed out onto a rather slender limb.

In the mutualist revival of the last ten years, mutualists have had to reach back to uncover and explain the original foundations and subsequent development of their traditions, and simultaneously show how this original anarchism responds to contemporary concerns. With the number of active mutualist theorists being small, and their backgrounds diverse, the natural division of that already-complex labor has given rise to at least two divergent trends in the revival.

The first, exemplified by Kevin Carson’s work, is reconstructive, a fairly conscious attempt to stitch back together a number of the narrower tendencies which have formed as anarchism developed. It has naturally become a focus for “big tent” coalitions like the Alliance of the Libertarian Left. Because the historical mutualism which Carson most closely identifies may be best understood as the economic component of Benjamin R. Tucker’s individualist anarchism, with its plumb-line focus on removing key monopolies, this mutualist tendency has emerged as a “free-market anti-capitalism.”The second tendency looks back to the earliest elements of the mutualist tradition, drawing on the extensive and largely neglected work of Proudhon, but also on influences (from Charles Fourier, Pierre Leroux, etc) which Proudhon did not fully integrate into his work, and on the work of a variety of writers from those early days of anarchism. It combines a sort of archaeological process of rediscovering mutualism’s roots with attempts to refine, complete and update its early forms. My own “two-gun mutualism” is an example of this explicitly neo-Proudhonian mutualism.

Both tendencies share the sort of unfinished character you might expect from revivals of long-dormant traditions, which poses problems for us, accustomed as we tend to be to well-established ideologies, amenable to treatment in FAQ form. There is a lot of work to be done—researching, translating, interpreting and updating—before a lot of the most common questions about mutualism can be answered in anything like a definitive form, and before we know if the various revivalist tendencies are destined ultimately to converge or diverge.

To some extent, we can expect the definitive to continue to elude mutualism. Proudhon emphasized the fact that social progress is a matter of experimentation and approximation. While our principles—key among them the ethic of mutuality or reciprocity—may remain fixed, our contexts constantly change, so practical answers to our most frequently answered questions are likely to change as well. Hopefully, we will just get better at applying our principles, and gradually perhaps our questions and concerns will change.

In the meantime, however, there are some things that can be said with some degree of certainty, and some speculations that can be made on the basis of those basic principles. While I pursue more complex, conditional and partisan projects elsewhere, this blog will focus on those bits of truth and certainty that perhaps we can share now. My hope is that it will serve as a useful introduction as well, in the absence of the sort of certainty or presumptive authority of an FAQ.

The road did not necessarily get smoother from there. There have been struggles over the “mutualist” label, and I personally set it aside for a year, just in order to see what, if anything, a connection to such a troublesome, elusive, contested notion was really buying me. More recently, I’ve been wrestling with the question of what any of our troublesome, contested labels really buy us. But, at the same time, the research and theory-building has gone steadily on, and some very important resources, like Proudhon’s unpublished manuscripts, have become more widely available, and enough of the pieces have come together recently to perhaps move beyond the wait-and-see attitude that was so necessary to get to this point without simply settling for something very much at odds with the original mutualisms.

What that means is that perhaps now, finally, we can begin to wrestle with the most basic principles and possible practices of mutualism, rather than simply ape or adapt aging approximations. So the reboot here will take up that task, gathering and updating existing commentary, as well as adding to a selections of answers to frequently asked questions, responses to criticism, debunking of partisan myths, etc. There is still nothing terribly easy about the task, so things will roll out slowly, but at least now I think that the task is indeed something that can be accomplished.

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A note on anarchist economics

Modern production takes the strictly individual productive capacities of individuals and multiplies them in a variety of ways. Organization and association in industry, social and technological infrastructure, progress in science, and various other factors all contribute to what Proudhon called the “collective force” in production, and he explained capitalist exploitation as a kind of “accounting error,” where there are three sorts of human inputs in production (individual workers as individuals, individual capitalists as individuals, who may or may not actively contribute, and all the individuals as collectivities), but only two of the three are compensated (with what may often be the largest share, that produced by the collective force, being largely channeled to the capitalists.)

That creates a weird economic environment, in which individual wages (driven down to something like a subsistence level by the disadvantages labor has in various markets, thanks, among other things, to the fact that a large share of the wealth it has created is competing with it in the marketplace) are expected to cover the bulk of basic, shared needs, both as payment in the market and as taxes to government. And it is subject to all the rigors of both the capitalist marketplace and the political process. Meanwhile, a mass of socially-produced wealth is in the hands of a capitalist minority, who tend to spend it on just about everything but necessities, under conditions where financial losses may be status gains, etc. Rather than following the dictates of supply and demand, much of that social wealth ends up in an economic environment that in some ways more closely resembles the anthropological gift economies, where pure expenditure can be translated into non-economic goods.

That topsy-turvy arrangement is almost exactly the opposite of what we might expect a well-ordered anarchist economy to look like. While anarchists vary in their approach to economic forms, there is probably a shared interest in creating a sustainable society in which individuals feel that not only their needs, but many of their desires are being met. On that basis, we probably also have a shared interest in seeing to it that a certain degree of mutual, social “investment” takes place in shared infrastructure, education, various forms of mutual insurance, etc. But there’s really no need for “taxes” to support that, as we expect to reclaim that mass of social wealth from the government and the capitalist, and we have to option of simply taking our remuneration for a share in social labor in the form of social spending. In a more collectivist society, we might see the arrangement turned more or less upside-down, with the bulk of social wealth plowed back into shared projects, unmediated by the market, and some small portion, corresponding to a wage, returned to individuals to do with as they wish in a limited market economy. Communists might “reinvest” everything, and the desire not to do any accounting would be protected a bit by the fact that the fruits of collective force, which have been systematically stripped from us, are likely to be substantial, even without any science-fiction scenarios or real “post-scarcity.” More individualist communities might return a larger share to the community, or return everything, expecting active investment in the maintenance of the community as part of community membership. And that last strategy might well survive some indifference and some free-riders for precisely the same reason that communism might succeed.

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Banque du Peuple – Bon de circulation


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From “The System of Economic Contradictions”

[I discovered that one section of the chapter on property did not appear among the translations I have posted online. After some searching, however, it did appear among my working files.]


The subject and object of science are found; the truth of thought and being are authentically established: it remains for us to find the method.

Philosophy, in it more or less deep researches on the object and legitimacy of thought, has not been slow to perceive that it followed, without knowing it, certain forms of dialectic which recurred unceasingly, and which, studied more closely, were soon recognized as being the natural means of investigating the common sense. The history of the sciences and arts offers nothing more interesting than the invention of these machines of thought, true instruments of our knowledges, scientiarum organa, of which we limit ourselves here to making known the principals.

First of all is the syllogism.

The syllogism is by its nature and by temperament spiritualist. It belongs to that moment of philosophical investigation when the mind dominates the affirmation of matter, when the intoxication of the self leads to neglect the non-self, and refuses, so to speak, all access to experience. It is the argument favored by the theologians, the organ of the a priori, the formula of authority.

The syllogism is essentially hypothetical. A general proposition and a subsidiary proposition or a particular case being given, the syllogism teaches us to deduce in a rigorous manner the consequence, but without guarantee of the extrinsic truth of that consequence, since, by itself, it does not guarantee the truth of the premises. The syllogism thus offers only utility as a means to tie a proposition to another proposition, but without power to demonstrate truth: like arithmetic, it responds with accuracy and precision to that which is asked of it; it does not teach us how to pose the question. Aristotle, who traced the rules of the syllogism, was not taken in by that instrument, and he indicated its faults, as well as analyzing its mechanism.

Thus the syllogism, proceeding invariably by an a priori, by a prejudice, does not know from whence it comes: little acquainted with observation, it posits its principle rather than exposing it; it tends, in a word, less to discover science than to create it.

The second instrument of the dialectic is the induction.

The induction is the opposite or the negation of the syllogism, as materialism, the exclusive affirmation of the non-self, is the opposite or negation of spiritualism. Everyone knows that form of reasoning, lauded and recommended by Bacon, which should, according to him, revitalize the sciences. It consists in going back up from the particular to the general, the reverse of the syllogism, which descends from the general to the particular. Now, as the particular can be classified, according to the infinite variety of its aspects, in an innumerable multitude of categories, and as the principle of induction is to suppose nothing that has not been previously established, it follows that unlike the syllogism, which does not know where it comes from, induction does not know where it is going: it remains grounded, and cannot rise and succeed. Like the syllogism, then, the induction has only the power to demonstrate the truth already known: it is without the power to discover. This is seen today in France, where the absence of what one calls the philosophical mind, that is the lack of superior dialectical instruments, holds science stationary, at the very moment when observations accumulate with a frightening abundance and rapidity. It is also true to say that that the progress accomplished since Bacon is not due, as is so often repeated, to induction, but to the sustained observation of the small number of prejudices that the ancient philosophy has bestowed on us, and that observation has only confirmed, modified or destroyed. Now that it seems we have worn out our framework, induction halts and science no longer advances.

In short, induction giving all to empiricism, and the syllogism giving all to the a priori, knowledge oscillates between two voids: while the facts multiply, philosophy is derailed, and all too often experience remains lost.

What is needed at this moment is thus a new instrument which, reuniting the properties of the syllogism and the induction, beginning at once from the general and the particular, leads by reason and experience, imitating, in a word, the dualism which constitutes the universe and which makes all existence come out from nothing, leading always and infallibly to a positive truth.

Such is the antinomy.

By the fact alone that it is an idea, a fact, that it presents a contradictory relation, and develops its consequences in two opposed series, there is room to anticipate a new and synthetic idea. Such is the principle, universal and consequently infinitely varied, of the new organ, formed from the opposition and combination of the syllogism and the induction, an organ only glimpsed by the ancients, no matter what is said, which Kant revealed, and which has been put to work with so much force and brilliance by the most profound of his successors, Hegel.

The antinomy knows from whence it came, where it is going, and what it carries: the conclusion that it furnishes is true without condition of prior or subsequent evidence, true in itself, by itself and for itself.

The antinomy is the pure expression of necessity, the intimate law of beings, the principle of the fluctuations of the mind, and consequently of its progress, the condition sine qua non of life in society, as well as in the individual. We have, in the heart of this book, sufficiently made known the mechanism of that marvelous instrument: what remains for us to say will successively find its place in the parts which remain for us to treat.

But if the antinomy can neither mislead nor lie, it is not all truth; and, limited to that instrument, the organization of the common sense would be incomplete, in that it would leave to the arbitrariness of the imagination the organization of the individual ideas determined by the antinomy. It would not explain the genus, the species, the progression, the evolutions, the system finally, which is precisely what constitutes the science. The antinomy would have quarried a multitude of stones, but those stones would remain scattered. There would be no edifice.

It is thus that the most superficial observation suffices to show the distribution by pairs of the organs of the human body; but he who would only know this dichotomy, true incarnation of the great law of contraries, would be far from having an idea of our organization, so complicated and yet so single. Another example: The line forms by the movement of a point which is opposed to itself; the plane rises from a movement analogous to the line, and the solid from a movement like the plane. Mathematics is full of this dualistic insights: dualism, employed alone, is nonetheless sterile for the understanding of mathematics. Try to deduce, by dualism, the triangle from the idea of the line. Can you extract, from the antithetical concepts of quantity, quality, etc., the idea of the seven colors of the rainbow, or the scale of seven tones?… Thus ideas, after having been determined individually by their contradictory relations, still have need of a law which groups, represents and systematizes them: with which they would remain isolated, like the state that the caprice of the first astronomers we able to reunite in fantastic constellations, but which were nonetheless strangers to one another, until the more profound science of Newton and Herschel discovered the relations which coordinate them in the firmament.

Science, such as it can result from the antinomy, is not enough for the intelligence of man and of nature: a last dialectical instrument thus becomes necessary. Now, that instrument, what can it be, apart from a law of progression, of classification and of series; a law which embraces in its generality, the syllogism, induction, the antinomy itself, and which is to that last as in music the song is to the harmony?…

That law, known in all times, as one can convince oneself by rereading the first chapter of Genesis, where the one called God creating the animals and plants according to their genera and their species, has been especially illuminated by the modern naturalists; it is sovereign in mathematics; the philosophers, as well as the artists, have proclaimed it as being the pure essence of the beautiful and the true. But no one, that I know, has given the theory of it: one will pardon me then for returning for that purpose to another work, in which one will doubtless find that I have made proof with more good faith than ability.

Progression, series, association of ideas by natural groups, such is the last step of philosophy in the organization of common sense. All the other dialectical instruments come down to that: the syllogism and induction are only fragments detached from higher series, and considered in various senses; the antinomy is like the theory of the two poles of a small world, leaving aside the middle points and the internal movements. The series embraces all the possible forms of classification of ideas, it is unity and variety, the true expression of nature, consequently the supreme form of reason. Nothing becomes intelligible to the mind but that which can be related to a series, or distributed in series; and every creature, every phenomenon, every principle which appears to us as isolated, remains unintelligible for us. Despite the testimony of the senses, despite the certainty of facts, reason rejects and denies it, until it has found its antecedents, consequences and corollaries, that is its series, its family.

In order to render all this more sensible, let us apply it to the very question which is the subject of this chapter, property.

Property is unintelligible outside the economic series, we have said it in the summary of this chapter. This means that property is not sufficiently understood or explained by means of any a priori whatsoever, moral, metaphysical or psychological (formula of syllogism); nor by means of any legislative or historical a posteriori (formula of induction); nor even by exposition of its contradictory nature, as I have done it in my Memoir on Property (formula of antinomy). It must be recognized in which order of manifestations, analogies, similarities or adequacies, property is ordered; it is necessary, in short, to find its series. Indeed, all that isolates, all that is only affirmed in itself, by itself and for itself, does not enjoy a sufficient existence, does not assemble all the conditions of intelligibility and duration; it requires also the existence within the whole, by the whole and for the whole; it is necessary, in short, to unite internal relations with external relations.

What is property? Where does property come from? What does property want? That is the problem that interests philosophy to the highest degree; the logical problem par excellence, the problem on the solution of which man, society and the world are dependent. In fact, the problem of property is, in another form, the problem of certainty; property is man; property is God; property is everything.

Now, the jurists respond to this formidable question, by mumbling their a priori. Property is the right to use and abuse, a right that results from an act of will, manifested by occupation and appropriation; it is clear they teach us absolutely nothing. For, admitting that appropriation is necessary to the realization of man’s destiny and the exercise of his industry, all that can be concluded from all this is that, appropriation being necessary to all man, possession must be equal, although always changing and mobile, susceptible of increase and of diminution, notwithstanding the possessors’ consent, which is the very negation of property. In the system of the jurists, the a priori reasoners, property, to be in agreement with itself, should be like liberty, reciprocal and inalienable, by means of which all acquisition, or in other words, every ulterior exercise of the right of appropriation, would be at the same time, on the part of the acquirer, the enjoyment of a natural right and, with regard to his fellows, an usurpation: which is contradictory, impossible.

But the economists, backed by their utilitarian inductions, come in their turn and tell us: the origin of property is labor. Property is the right to live by laboring, to dispose freely of one’s own savings, of one’s own capital, of the fruits of one’s own intelligence and industry; their system is no more solid. If labor, fruitful and effective occupation, is the principle of property, how do we explain the property of those who does not labor. How do we justify land-rent? How do we deduce from this formation of property through labor, the right of possess without laboring? How can we conceive that, from a labor maintained for thirty years, eternal property results? If labor is the source of property, this means that property is the reward from labor; well, what is the value of labor? What is the common measure of the products, whose exchange brings such monstrous inequalities in property? Would it be said that property should be limited to the period of real occupation, to the time duration of labor? Then property ceases to be personal, inalienable and transferable: this is property no more. Is it not evident that, if the jurists’ theory is purely arbitrary, that of the economists is purely routine? Besides, it seemed so threatening because of its consequences, that it was abandoned almost as soon as it appeared. The jurists across the Rhine, among others, almost all returned to the system of first occupation, a difficult thing to believe in the country of dialectics.

And what to speak about the divagations of the mystics, men whom reason horrifies and for whom the fact is always sufficiently explained, justified, by the sole fact that it exists? Property, they say, is a creation of social spontaneity, the effect of a law of providence, against which we only have to humiliate ourselves as against everything that comes from God. Oh! What could we find more respectable and authentic, more necessary and more sacred than that which the human race wanted spontaneously, and which has realized through a permission from on high?

Thus, religion comes in its turn to consecrate property. By this sign, it is possible to judge the lack of seriousness of that principle. But society, otherwise known as Providence, could not consent to property except with a view to the general welfare; is it permitted, with all due respect to Providence, to ask from whence then come the exclusions?… If the general welfare does not demand the absolute equality of property, at least it implies a certain responsibility on the part of the proprietor; and when the poor begs, it is the sovereign who calls for his tithe. How does it happen, then, that the proprietor is a master of never giving an account, of not granting, no matter for whom and how little the cost, any sharing?

From all points of view, property remains unintelligible; and those who have attacked it could be certain in advance that they would not be answered, as they could also count on the fact that their criticisms would not have the least effect. Property indeed exists, but reason condemns it: how are we to reconcile here the reality and the idea? How are we to make reason become fact? That is what remains for us to do, something that nobody seems to have clearly comprehended. Nevertheless, as long as property is defended by so poor means, property is in danger; and as long as a new and more powerful fact is not opposed to property, the attacks on property will not be anything other than insignificant protests, good to stir up the poor and annoy the proprietors.

Finally, a critic has come that, proceeding with the aid of a new kind of argument, says:

Property, in fact and in right, is essentially contradictory and it is for this very reason that it is anything at all. In fact,

Property is the right of occupancy; and at the same time the right of exclusion.

Property is labor’s reward; and the negation of labor.

Property is the spontaneous product of society; and the dissolution of society.

Property is an institution of just; and property is theft.

From all this it results that one day property transformed will be a positive idea, complete, social and true; a property that will abolish the older one and will become for all equally effective and beneficent. And what proves this is once again the fact that property is a contradiction.

From the moment that property started being recognized: its intimate nature was unveiled, its future predicted. However, it could be said that the critique had not realized even half of its task, because, to definitely constitute property, to remove its exclusion characteristics and give it its synthetic form, it was not sufficient to have analyzed it in itself, it was also necessary to find the order of the things, of which property was not more than a particular moment, the series that surrounded it and that outside of which it was impossible either to comprehend or to initiate property. Without this condition, property, guarding the status quo, remained unassailable as a fact, and unintelligible as an idea; and every reform attempted against this status quo could be, with regard to society, nothing but a retreat, if it was not, perhaps, a parricide.

Let us deign to reflect, indeed, that, at the very moment we write, property is still everything, for our legislative science as for our economic habits; that nothing is conceived, nothing is imagined outside of property, despite the efforts made by socialism in recent times; that neither in jurisprudence, commerce nor industry is there a way out; that if property is destroyed, society falls into an endless disorganization and that, having learned to acknowledge property in its antinomic nature, we do not know any better how is it going to realize its definite formula, how starting from the present order a new one will emerge, an order that nothing in the world yet gives us an idea about. Let us think, I say, on all this things, and then let us ask how, by virtue of the antinomy alone, from the present organization, which exhausts at once our experience and reason, will we be able to determine a social form for which we lack equally the ideas and the facts?

It must be recognized: the antinomy, by demonstrating what property in itself is, has said its last word, it cannot go further. We require another logical construction; it is necessary to find the progression of which property is only one of the terms, to construct the series outside of which property, appearing only as an isolated fact, a solitaire idea, remains always inconceivable and sterile; but also in which property, regaining also its rightful place and, by consequence, its real form, will become an essential part of a harmonic and true whole, and, losing its bad qualities, will assume the positive attributes of equality, mutuality, responsibility and order.

Thus, when we wished to discover the role and the philosophic sense of money, of that fact which appears to us isolated and without ***** in the books of the economists and by this reason it had remained unexplained until today, we looked for the chain we supposed currency was a detached ring; and, through this simple hypothesis, we found out without difficulties that the currency was the first of our products whose value was socially constituted and that, by this reason, it served as a model to all the others. Likewise, when we had the need of knowing the nature and elaborate a theory of taxation, this other isolated fact, object of so many clamors in political economy, we just had to complete the family of the workers, making enter on it as a genre the unproductive workers, or in another words, those whose remuneration is not effected by exchange and whose job is in lessening, while the jobs of the other workers is growing.

By the same method, to attain property’s full comprehension, to acquire the idea of the social order, we have to do two things: 1º. Determine the series of contradictions that property belongs; 2º. To give, by a general equation, the positive formula of this series.

If our hopes do not fool us, soon we will have realized the first part of this task. Property is one of the general facts that determine the oscillations in value; it is integrant part of this long series of spontaneous institutions that begin with the division of labor, an ends at the community, to resolve itself at the constitution of all values. We could just even show at System of economic contradictions, as in a reverse tapestry, the inverted image of our future organization, so that, to pass the last hand at our work and solve the second part of the problem, we will not have to wait anymore, or even better, wait only a redirection.

So, in principle, all solitary being, in other words, not divided or without a fellow, is in itself unintelligible; is, like spirit and matter, all non manifested essences, or, what ends up being the same thing, non serried, something inaccessible to the understanding and that resolves itself by the spirit in sentiment, in mystery. That’s why the infinite being, logic already leads to believe so, will always be to men, even after observation had confirmed its existence, as if it was not. As nothing in it neither outside it can put a end to concentration and solitude, neither eternity, ubiquity, neither omnipotence, infinite science, creation, neither the progressive humanity that is the principle and sustenance, but from which it distinguishes essentially, similar being remains forever unknown; and all reasons asks us in this concern is the negation, or what comes to be the same, faith.

Syllogism, induction, antinomy and series form, thus, the complete armament of intelligence; it is east to see that no other dialectic instrument can be further discovered.

Syllogism develops the idea, we can say, from up to the bottom; induction reproduces it bottom up; antinomy grasps it abreast and in side face; the series chases it and penetrates in solidity and deepness.

Have already seen that the field of knowledge has no other dimensions, there are no other methods. We can say that logic is already done, common sense already organized; and as the organization of labor is the unavoidable corollary of the organization of the common sense, it is impossible that society does not arrive soon at its certain and definitive constitution.


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Catechism of Marriage

[from Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, New Edition, Vol. IV]
Question. — What is the conjugal couple?
Answer. — Every power of nature, every faculty of life, every affection of the soul, every category of the intelligence, needs an organ, in order to manifest itself and act. The sentiment of Justice can be no exception to that law. But Justice, which rules all the other faculties and surpasses liberty itself, not being able to have its organ in the individual, would remain for man a notion without efficacy, and society would be impossible, if nature had not provided the juridical organism by making each individual half of a higher being, whose androgynous duality becomes an organ of Justice.
Q. — Why is the individual incapable of serving as an organ of Justice?
A. — Because individuals possess only the sense of their own dignity, which is enough for free will, while Justice is necessarily dual, because it supposes at least two consciences in unison. The dignity of the individual subject would appear only as the first term of Justice, and become respectable even for the individual only insofar as it interests the dignity of others. It is through marriage that man learns, from nature itself, to sense himself as double. His social education and his elevation in Justice will just be the development of this dualism.
Q. — Why, in the juridical organism, are the two persons dissimilar.
A. — Because, if they were similar, they would not complete one another. They would both be independent, without reciprocal action, and they would be incapable, for that reason, of producing Justice.
Q. — How do men and women differ from one another?
A. — In principle, there is no difference between men and women but a simple diminution in the faculties. Man is stronger, and woman weaker. In fact, that decrease of energy creates for the woman, in the moral and physical realms, a qualitative distinction which allows us to give this definition to the two: Man represents the power of that of which woman represents the ideal, and reciprocally, woman represents the ideal of that of which man represents the power. Before the Absolute, man and woman are two equivalent persons, because the strength and the beauty of which they are the incarnations are equivalents.
Q. — What is love?
A. — Love is the attraction that Strength and Beauty inevitably feel for one another. Its nature is consequently not the same in men and women. Moreover, it is through love that both of their consciences work for Justice, and each becomes for the other at once a witness, a judge and a second self.
Q. — How do you define marriage?
A. — Marriage is the sacrament of Justice, the living mystery of universal harmony, and the form given by nature itself to the religion of the human race. In a less elevated sphere, marriage is the act by which men and women, elevating themselves above love and the senses, declare their will to unite according to right, and to pursue, as much as they are capable, the accomplishment of social destiny, by working for the progress of Justice. That definition is related to the definition of Modestin, Juris humani et divini communicatio, which M. Ernest Legouvé translated, with less pomp, as School of mutual perfection.
In this religion of the family we could say that the husband or the father is the priest, the woman is the idol, and the children are the people. There are several initiations: the wedding, the hearth or the table, birth, puberty, the advice, the will and the funeral. All are in the hands of the father. They are nourished by his labor, protected by his sword, subject to his government and his tribunal, inheritors and upholders of his thought. Here is justice, complete, organized and armed. In the father, wife and children, its has found its apparatus, which will only be extended by the increase of families and the development of the city. Authority is there as well, but only temporarily. When the children reach majority, the father preserves only an honorific title with regard to them. Finally, religion is also preserved. While the interpretation of symbols, the habits of science and the exercise of reasoning steadily weaken it everywhere else, it remains in the family, is distilled there, and fears no attack. The revelation of women, entirely ideal, cannot be analyzed, nor denied, nor extinguished.
Q. — How, redeemed by this religion in which it is easy to recognize the embryo of all those that have followed it, does woman remain nonetheless subordinate to man?
A. — It is precisely because women are objects of worship, and because there is no common measure between force and the ideal. In no way does the woman enter into balance with the man. As an industrialist, philosopher or public functionary, she cannot. As a goddess, she must not. She is always too high or too low. The man will die for her, as he died for his faith and his gods, but he will keep the command and responsibility.
A. — Why is marriage, on both sides, monogamous?
A. — Because conscience is shared between the two spouses, and it cannot, without dissolving itself, admit a third participant. Conscience for conscience, like love for love, life for life, soul for soul, liberty for liberty: such is the law of marriage. Introduce another person, and the ideal dies, the religion is lost, the unanimity expires and Justice fades away.
Q. — Why is marriage indissoluble?
A. — Because conscience is immutable. The woman, expression of the ideal, may well, with regard to love, have a double in another woman, and be replaced by that living being; the man, expression of power, may as well. But with regard to the justification of which men and women are agents for one another, they cannot, apart from the case of death, leave one another and mutually give one another an alternative, since that would be to admit their common indignity, to unjustify each other, if we can put it thus; in other words, to become sacrilegious. The man who changes his wife creates a new conscience; he does not improve, but rather corrupts himself.
Q. — Thus you reject divorce?
A. — Absolutely. The civil and religious laws have posited the cases of nullity and of the dissolution of marriage, such individual error, clandestinity, crime, castration and death: these exceptions suffice. As for those tormented by lassitude, the thirst for pleasure, incompatibility of temperament, lack of charity, let them make, as they say, a separation. The worthy spouse only has to heal the wounds to his conscience and heart; the other no longer has the right to aspire to marriage: what he requires is concubinage.
Q. — Is it moral to prohibit the separated from remarrying, casting them into a union of concubinage?
A. — Cohabitation, or concubinage, is a natural combination, freely contracted by two individuals, without the intervention of society, with a view only to amorous enjoyment and subject to separation ad libitum. Apart from some exceptions, produced by the hazards of society and the difficulties of existence, cohabitation is the mark of a weak conscience, and it is with reason that the legislator refuses it the rights and prerogatives of marriage.
But society is not the work of one day; virtue is a difficult practice, without speaking of those to whom marriage is inaccessible. Now, the mission of the legislators, when they cannot obtain the best, is to avoid the worst. At the same time that we rule out divorce, the tendency of which will be to demean marriage by bringing it closer to concubinage, it is advisable, in the interest of women, illegitimate children and public mores, to impose certain obligations on concubinage which lifts it and pushes it towards legitimate union. All of antiquity accepted these principles. The emperor Augustus created a legal state in concubinage; Christianity tolerated it for a long time, and has still never been about to distinguish it from marriage. Consequently, everyone should be declared by law to be concubinaires who, apart from cases of adultery, incest, fornication and prostitution, maintain a commerce in love, whether or not they have a common domicile. Every child born in concubinage will bear by right the name of his father, following the maxim Pater est quem concubinatus demonstrat. The father in concubinage, just like the married father, will also be held to provide for the subsistence and education of his offspring. The neglected concubine would be entitled to compensation, unless she has first engaged in another concubinage.
Q. — What are the forms of marriage?
A. — The
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
the parents.
Q. — What do these formalities signify?
A. — We have said that marriage is instituted for the sanctification of love: it is a pact of chastity, charity and justice, by which the spouses declare themselves publicly to be freed, both of them by one another, from the tribulations of the flesh and the cares of gallantry. Consequently, it is sacred to all and inviolable. That is why, apart from some stipulations of interest also require publicity, the family and the city appear in the ceremony: the engagement of the couple, made in view of Justice, carries farther than their persons; their conjugal conscience becomes part of the social conscience, and, as the marriage insures their dignity, it is for the society that proclaims it a glory and a progress. Our flawed mores and our ignorance make us misunderstand things: while the concubine, who delivers herself without contract, without guarantee, on a word secretly given, for an allowance of food or a present in coins, like some rented jewelry, hides the secret of her loves and is no longer modest, the bride appears, calm and dignified, without blushing: if she blushed, she would lose her innocence.
Q. — This theory of marriage is very specious; but why ask metaphysics for an explanation that nature placed right at hand? Marriage has been instituted in the interest of children and inheritances: we don’t have to look further.
A. — Doubtless, children enter into things; but if the law of generation itself has only been established with an eye to Justice, if the multiplication of humans, their replacement and death is also only explained by juridical purposes, we must admit that the distinction between the sexes, that love and marriage, which enter into that economy, are related to the same ends. The same law which has made the conjugal couple an organ of generation had previously made it an apparatus of Justice: such is the truth.
Q. — Explain more.
A. — Every being is determined in its existence according to the place where it must live and the mission that it has to accomplish. It is thus, for example, that the figure of a sovereign been measured according to the dimensions of the land he exploits. Humanity, before operating at once on all points of the globe, cannot be reduced to a single, gigantic individual: it is necessary that it be multiple, proportioned consequently, in its body and in its faculties, with the extent of its domain and the labors that it has to make there.
Humanity thus being given as a collectivity, two consequences have followed. First, in order to make this multitude of free and intelligent subjects operate together, a law of Justice, written in souls and organized in persons, was necessary: that is the object of marriage. Second, the individuals of which the great humanitary body is composed are replaced successively, after having furnished a career proportional to their vital energy and to the power of their faculties: that is to what nature has provided by generation, and that of which it is now easy for us to penetrate the reasons.
The living being, whatever its liberty, by that same that it is limited, defined in its constitution and in its form, has and can only have one manner of feeling, of thinking and acting, one idea, one aim, one object, one plan, one end, one function, consequently one function, consequently one formula, one style, one tone, one note, expression of its absolute individuality, to which it strives to reduce all natural and social laws. Suppose that the human race was composed of immortal individuals: at some point, civilization would no longer advance; all these individualities, after having been driven by contradictions for some time, will end up balancing each other in a pact of absolutism, and the movement will cease. Death, by renewing the types, produces the same effect here as the war of ideas, organized by the Revolution as the necessary condition of public reason and faith (Study VII).
But it is not only to social progress that death is necessary: it is necessary to the felicity of the individual.
It is not only the case that, to the degree that he advances, man locks himself away in his individualism and becomes an impediment to others; he will end, in this intractable solitude, by becoming an obstacle to himself, to his vitality, to the exercise of his intelligence, to the conquests of his genius, and to the affections of his heart. Even without growing old, by the influence alone of the routine to which he will have been long condemned, he will fall into idiocy: his happiness and glory, as much as the progress of society, demand that he moves on. At that hour, his death is a gain; let him accept it with joy, and make his final hour his last sacrifice rendered to the homeland. Every last one of us, after devoting ourselves to science, Justice, friendship and labor, should end up like Leonidas, Cynaegirus, Curtius, Fabius, Arnold von Winkelried, and the Chevalier d’Assas. Would we complain that death comes to soon?
What pride! We will not even wait, if the occasion presents itself, for old age to give us the sign; we will go while we are young, like Barra and Viala.
Moreover, in leading man to death, to depersonalization, Justice does not destroy him entirely. Justice balances and renews individualities; it does not abolish them. It collects the ideas and works of man; it will preserve, by modifying them, even his character and physiognomy; and it is the interested [individual] himself that justice will charge with his own transmission. It is to him that it will entrust the care of his immortality, by establishing generation and the testament.
Thus man is reproduced in his body and his soul, in his thought, in his affections, in his action, by a dismemberment of his being; and as woman makes a shared conscience with him, she will also make a common generation. The family, extension of the conjugal couple, only develops the organ of jurisdiction; the city, formed by the growth of families, is reproduced in its turn with a higher power. Marriage, family, city, are a single organ; the social destiny is solidary with the matrimonial destiny, and each of us, through this universal communion, lives as much as the human race.
Q. — At base, the assumption of a conscience formed by two stems from the same metaphysics that has already made you suppose a collective reason and collective being. But that metaphysics has a serious fault; it shakes our faith in the whole order of existences, by rendering more and more problematic the simplicity of the soul, the indivisibility of thought, the identity and immutability of the self, and consequently denying their reality.
A. — Why don’t you say instead that this metaphysics, by it series and its antinomies, by the power of its analysis and the productivity of its synthesis, tends to establish the reality of things which hitherto remained pure fictions? It is the principle of composition which makes it possible for man to known; it is to this principle that we owe our certainty. All that we possess of positive science come from it, and nothing which has once been provided by it can be overturned. Why would the same principle not also make being possible? God himself, conceived as the higher, immanent thought of the worlds, and the expression of their harmony, would again become possible with that metaphysics: let us shudder at what its original sin would be…
Q. — Are all members of a society called to marriage?
A. — No; but all take part in it and receive its influence, by filiation, consanguinity, adoption, love, which, universal in essence, has no need, to act, of union or cohabitation.
Q. — According to this, you do not judge marriage indispensable to happiness?
A. — We must distinguish: from the psychic or spiritual point of view, marriage is a condition of felicity for all of us; the mystical wedding rites celebrated by the religious are an example. Every adult, of sound body and mind, that solitude or abstraction does not sequester from the rest of the living, loves, and, by virtue of that love, makes a marriage in their heart. Physically, that necessity is no longer true: Justice, which is the aim of marriage, and which can be obtained either by domestic initiation, civic communion, or, finally, by mystical love, is sufficient for happiness in all conditions of age and fortune.
Q. — What is the role of women in domestic and social economy?
A. — The care of the household, the education of childhood, the instruction of young girls under the supervision of the magistrates, the service of public charity; we would not dare to add, today, the national holidays and spectacles, that we could describe as the seed-time of love. Aristocratic immorality and the decadence of religious ideas have made the presence of women in these public solemnities an occasion for libertinage: that could change, and it is necessary that it does change.
Q. — No industry, no art, seems to you specially reserved for women?
A. — This is always, in veiled terms, to repeat the question of the political and social equality of the sexes, and to protest against the title of housewife, which, better than that of matron, expresses the vocation of women.
The wife can make herself useful in a wide variety of things, and she must; but, just as her literary production is always reduced to an intimate novel, whose full value is to serve, by love and sentiment, in the popularization of Justice; just so, in the last analysis, her industrial production amounts to secondary labors or housework: she never leaves that circle.
Man is a worker, and woman a housewife: what does she complain about? The more that developing Justice levels conditions and fortunes, the more they will be raised up, one by work, and the other by housework. When the man casts off all exploitation and all bosses, will the woman demand a servant? Where will she find one? Both sexes are born in equal numbers: is that clear?
The household is the full manifestation of the woman. The man, out of wedlock, can do without a home: at college, in the barracks, at the hotels, he finds himself and shows himself complete; lack of privacy does not affect him. For the woman, housework is a necessity of honor, let us say even of toilette. It is at home that the woman is judged; when she goes elsewhere, we do not see her. Daughter, mother, the household is her triumph or her condemnation. Who will tidy her nest, if not her? Does this odalisque require quartermasters, livery, chambermaids, bellhops, some midgets and apes?… We are no longer in a democracy, and we are no longeri n marriage;we fall back into feudalism and concubinage.
Q.What is freedom for women?
A.The truly free woman is the chaste woman. The chaste women feel no amorous emotion for anyone, not even for her husband. Why does the young virgin appear so lovely, so desirable, so worthy? She does not feel love; and not feeling love, she is the living image of liberty.
Q. — What part does love play in the marriage contract?
A. — The smallest possible part. When two people come together in marriage, love is supposed to have accomplished its work; the crisis is past, the tempest has dispersed, passion has flown, hyems transiit, imber abiit, as the Song of Songs says. That is why the marriage of pure inclination is so close to shame, and why the father who consents to it is blameworthy. The duty of the father is to establish his children in integrity and Justice; it is the reward of his labors and the joy of his old age to give his daughter, to choose a wife for his son with his own hand. Let young people marry without reluctance, at the right time; but let the fathers not let familial dignity be violated by anyone, and let them remember that physical reproduction is only half of paternity. When a son or a daughter, to satisfy their own inclination, tramples the wishes of their father under foot, disinheritance is for them the first of rights and the holiest of duties.
Q. — What is the earliest age at which it is appropriate to marry?
A. — When the man is made, the laborer formed; when ideas begin to come and Justice to subordinate the ideal: what we can express, following the example of the code, by an arithmetic minimum:
“Men before twenty-six years have passed, and women before twenty-one years, can contract marriage.”
Q. — What can the average period of intimacy be between the two partners?
A. — While the children are very young, the man owes the woman a tribute of caresses: nature wishes it this way, in the interest of the offspring. The child profits from all the love that the father shows to the mother: let us ask no more. When the eldest reach puberty, then, prudent partners, domestic modesty and the defense of your heart command you to abstain. Do not wait for the return of age, the apoplexy and the infirmities of old age to restrain you. You would reach that forced continence only to be pursued to the grave by obscene dreams and tribulations against nature.
Q. — Who, in general, is the man that a young woman should prefer for her husband?
A. — The most righteous.
Q. — Who, in general, is the woman that a man should prefer for his spouse?
A. — The most diligent. — In the man, the most important qualities for the woman are labor and affection: these qualities are guaranteed by la Justice. In the woman, the most important qualities for the man are chastity and devotion: they are guaranteed by diligence.
Q. — What consolation do you offer to those who love unhappily?
A. — To practice Justice with zeal, to that end to marry, after having paid to the lost love a just tribute of mourning. Justice is the heaven where their aching hearts will find one another, and, of all the ways of practicing Justice, the fullest and most perfect is marriage. Such is even, setting aside some other domestic considerations, the only legitimate motive for a second marriage. It is good that of two spouses, two fiancés, separated forever by a premature death, the survivor keeps faith with the deceased, and that faith is especially suited to the wife; but an excessive sadness in a young person betrays more illusion and selfishness than Justice; it would degenerate into a sin against love itself, if the afflicted lover refused the remedy.
Q. — What are, in order of gravity, the principal acts that you consider crimes and offenses against marriage?
A. — Adultery, incest, debauchery, seduction, rape, onanism, fornication and prostitution.
Q. — What is it, apart from general considerations of personal dignity, of respect for other, and of sworn faith, constitutes the culpability of these acts?
A. The common character that distinguishes them is to strike the family in its most sacred aspect, namely the domestic religion, consequently to annihilate, among the guilty and their accomplices, Justice in its source.
Thus adultery is, according the expression of the ancients, the violation of every divine and human law, a crime which contains in itself all the others, slander, treason, plunder, parricide, sacrilege. Ancient tragedy, like the epic, unfolds almost entirely on this ground, as demonstrated by the legends of Helen, Clytemnestra, Penelope, etc.
Incest, though less monstrous, is more base; mockery of familial decency and the maternal initiation; its counterpart is sodomy.
Debauchery, more common every day and treated with so much indifference, is the abuse of a minor, a destruction of Justice, if we may put it this way, in the bud, for which jurors should never allow extenuating circumstances.
By what unimaginable materialism has the legislator treated rape so severely, while he did not say a word against seduction?It seems that the first could often be placed in the category of blows and wounds which only affect the body, while the second kills the soul.
To these two kinds of crimes, we will assimilate the incitement to immorality by books, songs, carvings, statues, etc.
Onanism has bestiality for a corollary. A curious thing! Conjugal onanism has been proposed by the defenders of human exploitation to serve as an emunctory for the population; the same doctrine which makes the worker a beast of burden, should also make the lover a stallion.
Fornication is the temporary pleasure of two free people, not engaged in concubinage. It is incomparably more reprehensible than prostitution. Prostitution, remnant of the ancient state of war and feudalism, also has poverty as an excuse, and the prostitute, cut off like a rotten branch from the family, has betrayed no one. The fornicators cheat everyone and have no excuse; they should be blamed, if not punished. The hypocrisy of our customs have decided otherwise; secret fornication is applauded; the man caught in a brothel is deemed infamous.
If we consider adultery, seduction, rape, fornication, prostitution, divorce, polygamy concubinage as forming the pathology of love and marriage, incest, debauchery, pederasty, onanism and bestiality would be its teratology.
The flood of all the crimes and offences against marriage is the most active cause of the decadence of modern societies; it is to that cause that it is necessary to relate, in the last analysis, bourgeois cowardice, popular imbecility, republican ineptitude, depravity in literature, and despotism in government.
Every attack on marriage and the family is a profanation of Justice, a treason against the people and liberty, an insult to the Revolution.
Q. — How has the philosophy of right been so long without an understanding of marriage?
A. — Because the philosophers have always sought the right in religion, and every religion being essentially idealist and erotic, love in the religious soul is placed above Justice, and marriage reduced to concubinage.

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The Proudhon manuscripts at Besançon

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:

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