Sources: The Era of Proudhon

Our Lost Continent and the Journey Back:
I. — Sources (1837–1865)

Project Page:
MAPPINGS: Notes for an Introduction
SOURCES: The First Leg of the Journey
    CONFLUENCES: The Final Leg of the Journey

      So far, we have been focused on beginnings and endings, on looking forward and looking backward along trails already traveled or retraveled. But, of course, the bulk of this exploration will involve a matters much more close at hand—if I can put it that way—as we work our way, year by year, toward the present.

      Having divided our journey into long segments, corresponding to the various volumes, and having identified a few key figures whose careers it will be useful to explore in more depth, it becomes a question of the more painstaking task of exploring, in each of the years we will traverse, various incidents in the development of “the anarchist idea.” In each leg of the journey, we will consult the appropriate chapters of various histories—starting with the work of Max Nettlau—and select some texts that seem to illuminate the moment. And we will engage in one or more close studies of texts published or events that occurred in that span.

      In the first volume, P.-J. Proudhon will occupy center stage and we will attempt to tease out the outlines of the “Proudhonian anarchism” that might have emerged from his thought, had subsequent chapters of anarchist history played out a bit differently. Joseph Déjacque will feature as his anarchistic adversary—and as the first figure explicitly associated with an “anarchism.” Various other figures will be the subject of those close examinations, with the goal of demonstrating just how rich this early period was in a variety of anarchistic ideas.

      Each long leg of our journey will require certain reassessments and perhaps the most pleasant of those will involve this earliest era, which is so often marked on our maps with “Here be Precursors,” but is rather astonishingly well stocked with a wide range of anarchistic theories. And those theories, like the theorists behind them, tend to have a delightful larger-than-life air about them. They are entertaining and provocative, but also sufficiently distinct from the more familiar staples of anarchist theory to force us to wrestle with them a bit before they give up all of their secrets.

      This earliest era is really the wild heart of “Our Lost Continent.” And it is here that the fantastical framing of this historical exploration seems most obviously useful.

      So we will undoubtedly make the most of that frame in this first volume, in the first place purely for the fun of it, but secondarily because there is a skill to be practiced, a way of seeing “the anarchist tradition” as still wild and unexplored, that it will be necessary to apply in less obvious contexts, later in our journey, if we are to really complete the task we’ve set ourselves.

      Among the figures to be examined in this portion of the project are:

      Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, L’Humanitaire, Sylvain Maréchal, Pierre Leroux, William B. Greene, Charles Fourier, Etienne de la Boetie, Anselme Bellegarrigue, Ernest Cœurderoy, Joseph Déjacque, Eliphalet Kimball, Henriette (artiste), Jenny P. d’Héricourt, Calvin Blanchard, Henry Edger, Le Proletaire, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Josiah Warren, Mikhail Bakunin, Adin Ballou, Félix Pignal, César de Paepe, Flora Tristan, Jeanne Deroin, Ganneau (The Mapah), Walt Whitman

      The episodes already treated here—to one degree or another—that might become the subjects of more extensive studies include:

      But, of course, a year-by-year exploration of these particularly under-explored years is likely to turn up all sorts of new material as well—and to suggest new ways of thinking about elements first examined “on the trip out” and often through lenses that it has been necessary to refine or discard along the way.

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