Sunday, September 7, 2008

Proudhon At His Best

Thanks to Libertarian Labyrinth, here is a quote of Proudhon at his best. The man would definitely be banned at today!

I am, as you are well aware, citizens, the man who wrote these words: Property is theft!

I do not come to retract them, heaven forbid! I persist in regarding this provocative definition as the greatest truth of the century. I have no desire to insult your convictions either: all that I ask, is to say to you how, partisan of the family and of the household, adversary of communism, I understand that the negation of property is necessary for the abolition of misery, for the emancipation of the proletariat. It is by its fruits that one must judge a doctrine: judge then my theory by my practice.

When I say, Property is theft! I do not propose a principle; I do nothing but express one conclusion. You will understand the enormous difference presently.

However, if the definition of property which I state is only the conclusion, or rather the general formula of the economic system, what is the principle of that system, what is its practice, and what are its forms?

My principle, which will appear astonishing to you, citizens, my principle is yours; it is property itself.

I have no other symbol, no other principle than those of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen: Liberty, equality, security, property.

Like the Declaration of Rights, I define liberty as the right to do anything that does not harm others.

Again, like the Declaration of Rights, I define property, provisionally, as the right to dispose freely of one's income, the fruits of one's labor and industry.

Here is the entirety of my system: liberty of conscience, liberty of the press, liberty of labor, free trade, liberty in education, free competition, free disposition of the fruits of labor and industry, liberty ad infinitum, absolute liberty, liberty for all and always?

It is the system of '89 and '93; the system of Quesnay, of Turgot, of J.-B. Say; the system that is always professed, with more or less intelligence and good faith, by the various organs of the political parties, the system of the Débats, of the Presse, of the Constitutionnel, of the Siècle, of the Nationale, of the Rèforme, of the Gazette; in the end it is your system, voters.

Simple as unity, vast as infinity, this system serves for itself and for others as a criterion. In a word it is understood and compels adhesion; nobody wants a system in which liberty is the least bit undermined. One word identifies and wards off all errors: what could be easier than to say what is or is not liberty? Liberty then, nothing more, nothing less. Laissez faire, laissez passer, in the broadest and most literal sense; consequently property, as it rises legitimately from this freedom, is my principle. No other solidarity between the citizens than that accidents resulting from chance.


Shawn P. Wilbur said...

You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed the piece, though, naturally, I'm a little surprised. The "Revolutionary Program" is a nice indeed one of the tersest statements of Proudhon range of concerns, though it is a bit spoiled by its electoral context. You might be interested in the summary to "Theory of Property," which is the elaboration of the position in the "Program."

I'm surprised though, that you would have any time for this stuff, as it maintains the definition of property as theft, and only, as Proudhon put it in 1842, seeks to universalize that theft in order to abolish it.

And then there is the potential problem of the consequences of that individualization of interests. In the same piece you quoted, Proudhon asked: "Who does not see that the mutualist organization of exchange, of circulation, of credit, of buying and selling, the abolition of taxes and tolls of every nature which place burdens on production and bans on goods, irresistibly push the producers, each following his specialty, towards a centralization analogous with that of the State, but in which no one obeys, no one is dependent, and everyone is free and sovereign?"

I really need to get the rest of the "Revolutionary Program" translated.

Cork said...

Thanks, Shawn. I'll have to read that summary, and I'm interested in learning more about Proudhon.

Proudhon has always been somewhat hard for me (and others, it seems) to follow, and I'm not nearly as familiar with his work as I would like to be, or as I am with other anarchists.

Aren't Proudhon's overall views pretty similar to Benjamin Tucker's (despite being a little more communitarian)? Or do they differ on any significant points?

Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Tucker learned a lot from reading Proudhon, as he did more directly from Josiah Warren, William B. Greene and others of that generation in the US. But there are probably reasons why Tucker never completed his plan to translate all of Proudhon. Proudhon, like those American influences, was very much a product of the period around the revolutions of 1848. Tucker was a product of a different era. Even among individualists, the "hand-off" from one generation to the next wasn't necessarily clean. So Tucker simplified the individualist anarchist position to a plumb-line opposition to the four monopolies. Proudhon tied laissez faire to the principles of "immanent justice, individual sovereignty, and federation." And both remained torn about the justifications and utility of private property. Tucker left out much of the important philosophical stuff in Proudhon, but seems to have turned Stirner's egoism in some of the same directions that Proudhon took that "absolute insolidarity" stuff in the "Revolutionary Program."

Sorry, there's a lot in both those guys, and a lot of the source material has been either hard to get one's hands on or not in English, so ask me again in a month and I will probably put the difference a little differently. You might, though, want to keep an eye on my blog and, in general, left-libertarian circles. Whether or not you approve ideologically, I think there will be some interesting discussion as we're able to get more of this good, old stuff available to fight over.

anarcho-mercantilist said...

Social "anarchists" can sneer all they want.

Who do you care about the social "anarchists"? Just ignore them, like how you ignore the actions of cultural conservatives. The social anarchists consist less than 0.01% of the population, so it is a waste of effort to critize them, when you can criticize others more productively.

Why don't you critize the white nationalists or the state-communists that forms 1% of the population? That's one hundred times more productive.

Just because some random ideology has the same "anarchist" name, you do not have any obligation to waste your effort then you can do something more productive. Every anarcho-capitalist naturally oppose the social "anarchists." It's useless to critize social "anarchists."