To be a (synthetic, positive) anarchist

I want to turn next to some considerations of Proudhon’s keywords, and the development of his use of terminology. This has been a key concern in my previous work on “property,” and promises to emerge again as I look at the various things that Proudhon meant by “anarchy,” and what then it meant to him to “be an anarchist.” There are just a handful of places where he explicitly declared himself an anarchist, the most famous of them being from 1840, in What is Property? In 1853, in The Philosophy of Progress, he referred to that declaration, clarifying what he intended by it. The explanation is interesting:
I wrote in 1840 that profession of political faith, as remarkable for its brevity as its energy: I am an anarchist. I posited with that word the negation, or rather the insufficiency of the principle of authority… By that I meant, as I later showed, that the notion of authority is only, like the notion of an absolute being, an analytic idea, powerless, from whatever direction one might come at authority, and in whatever manner it is exercised, to give a social constitution. For authority, for politics, I then substituted ECONOMY, a synthetic and positive idea, alone capable, in my opinion, of leading to a rational and practical conception of the social order. However, I did nothing in this but to repeat the thesis of Saint-Simon, so strangely disfigured by his disciples, and combated today, for tactical reasons that I cannot work out, by M. Enfantin. It consists in saying, based on history and the incompatibility of the ideas of authority and progress, that society is on the way to completing the governmental cycle for the last time; that public reason has gained certainty of the powerlessness of politics, with regard to the improvement of the condition of the masses; that the predominance of the ideas of power and authority has begun to be succeeded, in opinion as in history, by that of the ideas of labor and exchange; that the consequence of that substitution is to replace the mechanism of the political powers by the organization of economic forces, etc., etc.
The declaration seems to get a little lost as the clarification wanders off into Saint-Simon’s work. He is asserting once again, as he did in his 1849 debate with Louis Blanc, that “Anarchy 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.” And he reaffirms his 1840 claim that anarchy is “the form of government that we approach every day.” But there are also these philosophical considerations in play—and there is a very interesting shift from “negation” to “insufficiency.”

If being an anarchist has something to do with the insufficiency of the principle of authority, but perhaps not its negation, and if it relates to the “synthetic and positive idea” of “economy,” well…? We obviously have some details to fill in.

Is the answer perhaps related to this summary statement from the “Study on Ideas,” in Justice in the Revolution and in the Church?

Two families, two cities, two provinces, contract on the same footing: there is always only these two things, an equation and power of collectivity. It would involve a contradiction, a violation of Justice, if there were anything else. 

My inclination is to say that the answer to the question essentially is that passage—but for now I want to leave it an open question.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.