Note on the intitiation into justice

“It is through marriage that man learns, from
nature itself, to sense himself as double.”

A point that I probably haven’t explored sufficiently, in the course of working through Proudhon’s thoughts on the family, is the extent to which his concept of marriage appears to be not just distanced from sexual and reproductive concerns, but perhaps transformed in a way that makes those concerns almost inessential. His emphasis on chastity was certainly in part a reflection of his own predilections, but those tastes were shared rather widely in his context and were not uncommon among the radical women with whom he engaged in debate. And, ultimately, Proudhon’s vision of marriage is something that might make sense for a species that did not engage in reproductive activity or any other sort of physical coupling. It’s easy to be distracted by what Proudhon thought he knew about men and women, and ultimately we have to engage with that seriously, but we also need to make sure that we don’t miss the more general form of the marriage relation.

From the “Catechism of Marriage:”

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.

Marriage as a ceremony, according to Proudhon, is a right of passage, involving a declaration by individuals that they will strive to be more than just individual. It is an initiation into justice as a sort of religion (in the limited sense of shared belief system.) Then, as part of the organization of daily life, marriage is the school in which individuals learn to live up to that declaration.

This question of how a commitment to, and education in, anarchistic justice is to be incorporated into everyday life is a very interesting one, particularly if we assume that there will ever be anything worth calling anarchist societies of a relatively sustainable sort. So if we are not to lose Proudhon’s insights into the potential mechanisms of anarchistic initiation and education, we have to untangle the specific errors he perpetuated, regarding the capacities of men and women, from the form of the initiation. It is sort of analysis that makes serious demands on us, confronting Proudhon precisely at the point where he was himself most reactionary, but also perhaps most revolutionary in the -of-everyday-life sort of way that we naturally value. But his distancing of marriage from specifically sexual or reproductive concerns arguably provides an opening for us to consider a much broader range of possible initiations into anarchistic justice, and of schools for learning our social “doubleness.”

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.