Proudhonian consistency—II

One of the stumbling blocks to accepting Proudhon’s post-1861 “New Theory” of property seems to be the fact that it is hard to image that “monopoly,” “absolutism,” even “despotism” (all words Proudhon used to describe the allodial property that never stopped being “theft” for him) could be a key ingredient in the creation of society, association, etc. Even when we become accustomed to the “economic contradictions,” this particular move may seem like a bit of a stretch. The isolation of interests that goes with exclusive domain seems to work against the more social elements in Proudhon’s thought. 
But if we look carefully at the 1839 Celebration of Sunday, we find a curious thing. Right at the beginning of the section on the moral utility of the Sabbath, Proudhon makes a point of emphasizing the solitude, the isolation, faced by individuals during their weekly rest—and then goes on to explain how that interruption of work, but also of the normal rounds of society, is vital to the growth of the individual and to the development of society.

Several of the elements of the “New Theory” were not clear to Proudhon until much later, but if we want to understand the early elements that went into his embrace of the isolation involved in property, it would make sense to start with this section of The Celebration of Sunday, then move on to passages in What is Property? where Proudhon tells us that individual “learn because they err.” Then on to the discussion of the “abuse” of property in the Economic Contradictions where he says, using language familiar from 1840:

By abuse, the legislator has meant that the proprietor has the right to be mistaken in the use of his goods, without ever being subject to investigation for that poor use, without being responsible to anyone for his error. 

And so on…

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2108 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.