Un Etat, c’est moi

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The manuscript of Proudhon’s Pologne keeps slowly giving up its secrets, and some of them are perfectly designed to blow 21st century anarchist minds. Reexamining The Theory of Property as Chapter VII of Pologne has meant that one of the things I have become most interested in is the reason why a “guarantism” involving individual property seems to be called for by the social and political evolution described in the first six chapters. That has meant reuniting the two manuscripts on the Besançon site, as much as is possible, and looking particularly closely for whatever transitional material might have been written, prior to Proudhon’s decision to publish the material on property separately.

There are scattered outlines, demonstrating the evolution of the manuscript of Pologne, suggesting two- and three-step evolutionary processes in the development of the State, with sometimes cryptic notes relating to the role of property. In a general sense, it appears that Proudhon believed that the State must pass through a growth process before dissolution and federalist decentralization are possible (although this is probably a question of the historical emergence of possibilities, rather than a fixed life-cycle.) And in the later stages, “The final term of political evolution for all of humanity appears to be reduce everything to a question of individual liberty, property, and universal mutuality.” (Pologne, 746)

We’ll be able to clarify a lot of the details fairly simply, just by working through the manuscripts of those first six chapters, which Proudhon identified as a separate book, Political Geography and Nationality, to be published after his death. Like the material published as The Theory of Property, those chapters are substantially complete, and very interesting. And we are fortunate that there really doesn’t seem to have been a lot of rewriting on Proudhon’s part at the beginning of the material on property. What was originally the beginning of Chapter VII of Pologne simply appears towards the the end of Chapter I of The Theory of Property, and the manuscript largely continues uninterrupted from that point to the beginning of the Conclusion. There are, however, about 675 words omitted, right from the beginning of that original Chapter VII.

I’ve assembled and translated a table of contents for Political Geography and Nationality, and translated the missing transitional passage. For those who have been following my explorations, some of the elements will be familiar, while others (political organogeny or organogenesis and social metamorphism, for example) will be entirely new. We encounter again the notion of the real, concrete individuality of “social beings” like the State and the corollary that “every individual is a group.” I suppose then, having learned in The Theory of Taxation that “the State is itself a sort of citizen,” this bit from the transitional passage probably shouldn’t surprise us:

One of our maxims is that the citizen must be made in the image of the state, that the man given by nature must be repeated on the model of Society, the true and living Word. It is only in this way that the individual will acquire that of which nature has only given him a shadow, liberty and autonomy, become the personification of right, and be able to separate themselves from the magistracy and the government.

That said, I have to admit that I was indeed surprised, and I expect that pretty much everyone else will be as well.

We have all the pieces necessary to make sense of this claim, perhaps in several different ways. And some of the potential interpretations seem very exciting. I wonder, for example, if this “citizen,” conceived as a “social being,” might take on some of the functions we have seen assigned to the married couple and/or the bon père de famille, and exercise them in a way that might let us approach justice a bit more directly, without the mediation of the family. Proudhon clearly didn’t get quite that far in The Theory of Property, but it isn’t clear that we can’t.

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