On Repression (and cannibalism) (1851)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. A third revolutionary agent is indispensable:

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

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

A king, but handsome, glorious, victorious.

And so on.

We affirm that ideal objectively in God and Heaven;

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

Art is the reproduction of that ideal.

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

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

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

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

God has lost all ontological and aesthetic value.

Utopia offers nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After having denied God, affirm HUMANITY.

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

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

It is the sanction of right and of duty.

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

Everything is revolutionary, in Heaven and on the Earth.

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

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

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On human emancipation (1850)

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


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

All government is tyrannical.

All property is theft.

All religion is mystification. [177]

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

In any case, this is what takes place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will demonstrate all of that.

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

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

Describe the laws of that struggle.–

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

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

Reason cannot give exact results.

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

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

Political economy, science of approximation.

Jurisprudence, idealism more than realism.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Conclude with these laws and these facts:

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

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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On the necessity of following the revolution

[From Proudhon’s Carnets]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carnet 8, 322


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

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Notes on An-archy (Carnet No. 9)

[from Carnet No. 9]

[19] Revolutionary practice. — The great principles of society are principles of DIRECTION, rather than of application. So obviously we must act in politics as if we were pursuing the complete destruction of all government, not as if, presently, every governmental force must cease.

Similarly [in the case of], property is theft…

Similarly [in the case of], God is the Devil…

Similarly [in the case of], Association, the salariat, etc., etc.

No authority either of government over man; it is the law of direction! — Thus, simplification, repeal of the laws, abrogation of authority, greater and greater liberty.

But we have a party, wretches, conspirators, charlatans, poor clods, whose protection and guarantee is maintained by the government. —

— Girardin pronounces the phrase abolition of the State. There is L. Blanc completely demonetized.

No more State: that is my cry! No more Government: it is synonymous! It is difficult not to recognize that all these formulas,

No more president,

No more representatives,

No more delegates,

No more Authority,

No more State,

No more Government,

} = An-archy

are perfectly synonymous, and are the exact translation of that Greek word An-archia

No more Government

That word An-archy, so slandered by the governors, and cast at the people as a sign of terror, is the proper word, the only admissible one, precisely because of its correlatives, Mon-archy and Olig-archy, or demo-cracy, auto-cracy and aristo-cracy. —

No, not even the direct Government of the People, for it is always the government of some people. —

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Association.—PENALTY, death penalty (Carnet No. 4, 1847)

P.-J. Proudhon, Carnets, Vol. 2, Carnet No. 4, P. 25-26.

Association.—Penalty, death penalty. Its legitimacy. Identity of justice and vengeance (talion, expiation, penitence, excommunication, etc.); Hatred, natural passion, legitimate and holy! Zelus domus tuæ comedit me! said Elijah. It is the hatred of the miscreant. To hate is to desire the death of someone, their retrenchment, they’re a long month.

To hate is to wish the death of someone, their removal in some way.

Man naturally, legally and honestly hates everything that harms him or does him ill: injustice, rudeness, ingratitude, discord, guile, perfidy, coarseness, dirtiness, cruelty, despotism, folly, mockery and vice in general (whether of the body, the heart or the mind.)

Hatred is not just a negative passion: it is a very positive passion, existing by itself, having its specific objects, its varieties, etc.—like love.

Love and hatred, then, [are the] trunk of all the passions.

We can no more say that ugliness, evil and vice are the negation of the beautiful, the good and the virtuous, than we could say that the latter are the negation of the former.

Beauty, goodness and virtue are ideas concerning relations, just like vice, evil and ugliness. One [group] expresses realities as well as the other. Satan is as true as God: sin is a fact as real as virtue. There is no less materiality in a murder than in childbirth. The penal code says body of crime, just as the code of [criminal] procedure says fact in opposition to right.

To make men beautiful, good, industrious and agreeable is to diminish the hatred among them.

Those persons who hate weakly, love coldly.

But the hatred of the man is subject to a discipline, like his loves: it is the law, or penal convention.

Man, by law, abdicates the care of his vengeance into the hands of society: from this, the Courts.

All the declamations against hatred, vengeance and the death penalty are absurd.—A world where charity and fraternity alone reign, impossible.

There will always be hatreds. And as I have said elsewhere that the torments of the mind, moral misery, grasp us after physical misery, as the torments of reason are keener than those of matter, that consequently suffering always increases among men, thus hatred and war will always increase.

But hatred and war that will not end in excessive duels, in blows: war, organized, is fraternity itself.

Crimes will doubtless decrease: it is the sole means of making punishments disappear.—But as long as there is crime, there must be chastisement.

It is also a question of knowing if the punishment must not increase in proportion to the intelligence of the delinquent, instead of diminishing in proportion to the progress of civilization.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur.]

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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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Proudhon on “the American question”

[from a letter to Gustave Chaudey, September 1, 1862.]

On the American question, I can only tell you that my opinion changes every day; I have no faith in the philanthropy of the North; I do not accept that the federal Constitution prevents the separation; on both these connections, the English public is entirely turned around. Then there is the fact that the armies of the North experience failure upon failure; England, Belgium and France, devoured by pauperism, are clamoring for cotton; and if the imperial government, joining with a certain felicity the two questions of Mexico and the Confederates, reestablished relations between Europe and New Orleans, would you still attack from that side? More than ever, I tell you: Watch out! Conqueror of Garibaldi in Italy, Napoleon III would have the voice of the clergy behind him once again; victor in Mexico and the United States, he would have the factories and the bank; all these undertakings, first judged so unfortunate, would appear glorious; and you know that France willingly pays for glory.

[from War and Peace, Vol. 1]

American Question. — The States of the North and the States of the South, long divided on the question of slavery, finish by separating. In a State strongly constituted, surrounded by powers ready to profit from its weakening, such a separation would be very perilous; it would not be supported: there would be war. In America, thanks to the security which surrounds the territory, it is possible for things to occur otherwise. It is Israel which would separate from Judah: the Eternal would make known which is the people after his own heart. But it is also possible that they would fight: in this case, two questions are to be dealt with. On the one hand, we ask if the Southerners have the right to secede, if those in the North have the right bring them back and settle the question de slavery by force; on the other, what must we think of slavery in itself, setting aside the political question.

First, is there a case for war? To this first question I would respond as I have previously with regard to religious wars: The battle, whatever its outcome, will prove absolutely nothing for or against the very fact of slavery. The right of war knows nothing of civil right or the right of peoples. This what makes war. We could not contest, on the one hand, that a puritan majority had the right, within the nation that it represents, a practice that offends its religious and humanitarian feelings; on the other hand, that the minority, considering things from an entirely different point of view, and that moreover is not offered either indemnities nor laborers to replace its slaves, also has the right to combat the inappropriateness of the emancipation and to defend its interests. I will say right away what this minority can invoke for that defense. The war, brought by the incompatibility of principles, and rendered inevitable by the danger or insult of a schism, will thus be legitimate, legal on both sides; and its decision, insofar as it would aim to uphold the idea of the larger part of the country, would be fair. It remains then to examine in itself that question of slavery, that must be resolved sooner or later, either by the right of force, or by still other considerations than force.

On this point, although I reject slavery as much as anyone in the world, I am still far from blaming completely what we in Europe are accustomed to do with regard to the exploiters of the Southern states. It is not with biblical citations and sentimental novels that such a question of moral practice, humanitary/humanitarian economy and general civilization can be judges. Humanity is worthy of respect in all its races, I know; justice, in my view, has no other foundation than this respect. That is why, according to the Gospel, all the nations have been called to salvation, or as we positive philosophers say, called to civilization, to liberty. Je profess that universal calling of the peoples and races to liberty as the first article of the right of peoples. But whoever desires the ends must also desire the mean; and then, to each thing its season, tempus laborandi, et tempus liberandi, as it says in Ecclesiastes. Now, if the Americans of the South can be justly suspected of avarice, are those of the North sheltered from the reproach of imprudence, or even that of self-righteousness [pharisaism]?

We think about the blacks as if they were our peers, as the Roman or Greek could have thought of the Gaul or Jew, their equal as a human being, who had become, though the fortunes of war, their slave. But a fact which must strike all minds, and which it is impossible for any serious friend of humanity not to take into account seriously, is the inequality which exists among the human races, and which makes the problem of social and political equilibrium so difficult. It is not only by the beauty of their features and the elegance of their figure that the Caucasians are distinguished from the other; it is also by the superiority of their physical, intellectual and moral strength/force. And that superiority of nature is multiplied tenfold by the state of society, so that no race stands before us. A few English regiments contain and govern one hundred and twenty million Indians, and we have just seen that a small army of Europeans was sufficient to conquer China. What comparison shall we make between the Anglo-Saxons and the Redskins, who let themselves die rather than be civilized, or the negro imported from Sudan? The races of the New World disappear before the progress of the whites: the massacres of the Spanish have been less deadly to them than contact with more civilized races. Will we forget, finally, that, since abolition of the feudal system, in our industrialist society liberty is, for individuals weak in body and mind, whose families do not assure them some income, something worse than slavery—the proletariat? Force requires it to be so, as long as it remains the dominant law of society; and I say that the right which still dominates us today, is not the right of labor, which is still not recognized, nor the right of intelligence, source of so many deceptions, it is still, whatever we say, the pure right of force.

Certainly, I have no intention of renouncing here my own thesis and combating precisely what I intend to rehabilitate, when I stand, in support of the blacks, against the hypocritical thought that, under pretext of emancipating them, tends to do nothing less than cast them under the pure regime of force, and to make of them a proletariat a hundred times more abject and revolting than that of our capitals. It is, on the contrary, because I want to restore to honor this right, misunderstood for so long, of force, that I protest, with regard to slavery, against the unintelligent, odious application that will be made of it. Well! The worker of the English race, la race forte par excellence, dies of hunger in the streets of London; what will be the fate of the negro, one day, in the streets of Washington and Baltimore?

The abolition of slavery is a question that springs from the right of peoples, let us say rather, from the right of the races, since here we must make the distinction marked by these two terms; it arises then primitively from the right of force, from which is derived, as we have seen, all international relations, all the formations of States, incorporations, centralizations and federations.

But, in the case of which it is a question, the right of force, applicable in its strictness, in so far as it is solely a question of States, can no longer be followed, and why? Because it tends to the extermination of individuals, and because, as it has been explained in the definition of the right of peoples, if the sacrifice of a State can be required, in the name of the right of force and in the interest of the general civilization, the human person remains sacred, and that all that we have to do ourselves, as a superior race, with regard to the inferior ones, is to raise them up to our level, that is to attempt to improve, fortify, instruct and ennoble them.

Who are the true enemies of the blacks? Those who, knowingly or unknowingly, it does not matter, seriously consider making them perish in the desolation of the proletariat. Who are, on the contrary, the true negrophiles? Those who, holding them in servitude, exploiting them, it is true, insure their subsistence, improve them insensibly by labor, and multiply them by marriage. [1]

What there is to do, then, is not a pure and simple emancipation of the slave: that would almost amount to sending him to the pillory [or Gehenna, depending on how you read the figurative language]. It is, by an adroit intervention of the State, by a serious responsibility imposed on the master, to make of that master an educator, a tutor, a patron for the slave, instead of a consumer of the slave that he had made by the right of the strong, property.

Every race is called to labor. If there was one which could not or would not work, it would be condemned by that alone, and, given over to poverty, it would soon disappear. Sooner or later the Europeans will establish themselves in the middle of the Sudan, as they have established themselves in the heart of the two Americas; so it is necessary that the negroes work. Let them work from now on: it is our right to compel them to do it. In that regard I would have preferred, I admit, that instead of abolishing the slave trade, it had been placed under the inspection of the governments.

Every race must improve, reform and instruct itself. Let the law that protects the weak as well as the strong watch over the workers of the inferior races employed by agriculture and industry, as it does its own proletarians. That is the true solution of the problem of slavery…


  1. Since the split began between the North and South in America, with regard to slavery, incitements to revolt and the murder of masters do not cease to divide the states of the North from England itself. The English ministry supports them; certain French liberals repeat them. These provocations are contrary to the right of peoples. It is not the love of the negro that inspires them: they are instead the effects of a scheme which, not daring, like the Spanish of the sixteenth century, to engage in massacre, tends to exterminate the inferior races by dispossession, sickness and poverty.

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Unanimity.—Universal Consent (c. 1852)

[“Economie,” manuscripts at Gallica]

Unanimity.—Universal Consent

P.-J. Proudhon

There are things, in the moral order, about which the human race is unanimous; there are even many of them.

So isn’t it possible that all the questions of politics, economics and morals could be simplified or clarified in such a way that the response to them would be unanimous?

In this way, the direct government of the people would be possible.

It is according to that idea, confirmed by the testimony of the sciences, that [Pierre-Napoléon] Domenjarie [1852] has written his pamphlet, La loi morale, loi d’unanimité, which we have read in prison.

That philosophical thesis [reveals] the ignorance of the author, but it is nonetheless useful to clarify it.

The things about which there can be unanimity (it is not a question of facts/deeds) are all definite abstractions, whatever order of ideas they may belong to.

Thus, is it not permitted to kill a man: Non occides.

But the disagreements begin when it is a question of practical cases:

Is it permitted to kill in legitimate defense?

Is it permitted to kill in war?

Is it permitted to kill judicially?

Is it permitted to kill deserters?

Is it permitted to kill a man or woman caught in flagrante delicto in the act of adultery?

Is it permitted to kill a tyrant?

Is it permitted to kill the abductor of a minor child? etc.

Now, on the practical cases, there is necessary flexibility, and as the circumstances alone make the law or non-law, it follows that one cannot posit an absolute principle, and that unanimity is impossible.

Thus, on a principle of abstract mathematics, there will be unanimity.—But if it is a question of assessing the results of a business, of an enterprise, of an experiment, etc., opinions can vary infinitely.

Similarly, in the moral realm, there is unanimity on principles, because the principle expresses an ideality, an abstraction. Only do to others what you would like others to do to you: everyone is unanimous on this precept, which we find expressed spontaneously everywhere.

It is an abstract, ideal formula.

But what should I want for myself? What can I demand? What is my right? That is where unanimity ceases to exist, and it is necessarily replaced by free debate, which ends in the transaction or the Contract.

The value of a product is a common example: it summarizes all cases.


Now, Reason asks itself:

Is there a science for undefinable things, on which unanimity will never practically exist, as there is one for definite things?…

It is this question to which the economic science responds.


From this previous explanation, it is easy to deduce and a priori judgment that declares void the so-called science of Fourier, which aspires to [resolve] everything, mathematically, that is to say abstractly, and by means of definitions.

From this as well, the elimination of the Communist thought, which, supposing unanimity, suppresses debate, competition, contract; the very principle of conventional right!….

It is time to open the eyes of the public in that regard and especially to repress the [   ] presumption of these poor Devils who believe they have found the secret of the world when they have produced a [   ] gross naïveté.

What then is the science of indefinable things, of things on which there remains unnecessary doubt, and where unanimity is impossible?

It is the science that teaches us to know the [causes], the reason, the laws that rule this very variability: and how bye judicious and equitable convention, we arrest that variability, and convert into something definite a thing that is not of that nature.

Sic Notion of dead weight [poids mort];—variable.

     Notion of maximum load [poids utile];—variable.

     Relation between one and the other;—variable.

What are the causes of these variations?—How do they come about?—What is their mode, their character?—What utility [can we] draw from them for the conduct of life? etc., etc. How to behave with them? etc.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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