Kicking off a year of Justice

2008 was a transitional year for my various projects, and some, like the English-language archiving, suffered a bit from my relocation and the various transitions that surrounded it. I hope that an equivalent service to the movement has been rendered by the translation that has taken up so much of my time. The progress seems glacial in comparison to the years where I was able to add thousands of pages of material, but, as ought to be apparent, developing the skills to dig back into the early French texts has had some very important effects on my overall thinking about anarchism, and allowed me to pull together a number of threads from my various careers and avocations. I’m having a lot of fun getting to know Proudhon, Bellegarrigue, etc. And I feel like the work of 2008 has put me in a position to focus my labors a bit more in 2009, and finish up some half-finished (or, as in some cases, 9/10-finished) and long-promised works.

I’ll talk more about those as they come back into more active play, but virtually all of them will involve a continued push through Proudhon’s work, and my central goal for 2009, with regard to the translating and archiving work, is to get through the first four volumes of Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, 1501 pages in the Collected Works edition, along with whatever else I can manage from the two volumes of notes, and some of the responses and criticisms, particularly from the Colinsean camp. That’s a healthy chunk of work all by itself, although I have hundreds of pages in various states of preparation, and have access to some equally provisional translations from Jesse Cohn. I make no promises to complete it, as other things may well take precedent, as has happened before, and certainly might happen again in the uncertain times we’re facing. But the plan is to make Proudhon’s masterwork available in an English translation of sufficient quality that it can be studied, discussed and used.

So here, without further ado, begins:


Volume I



§ I. — The coming of the people to philosophy.

At the beginning of a new work, we must explain our title and our design.

Ever since humanity entered the period of civilization, for as long as anyone remembers, the people, said Paul Louis Courier, have prayed and paid.

They pray for their princes, for their magistrates, for their exploiters and parasites;

They pray, like Jesus Christ, for their executioners;

They pray for the very ones who should by rights pray for them.

Then they pay those for whom they pray;

They pay the government, the courts, the police, the church, the nobility, the crown, the revenue, the proprietor and the garnisaire, I meant the soldier;

They pay for every move they make, pay to come and to go, to buy and to sell, to eat, drink and breathe, to warm themselves in the sun, to be born and to die;

They even pay for the permission to work;

And they pray to heaven to give them enough, by blessing their labor, to always pay more.

The people have never done anything but pray and pay: we believe that the time has come to make them philosophize.

The people cannot live in skepticism, after the example of the gentlemen of the Institute et des beautiful souls of the city and the court. Indifference is unhealthy for them; they reject libertinage; they hasten to flee from that corruption which invades from on high. Besides, what they ask for themselves, they want for everyone, and make no exception for anyone. They have never claimed, for example, that the bourgeoisie must have a religion, that religion is necessary for the regulars at the Bourse, for the bohemians of the magazines and the theaters, or for that innumerable multitude living from prostitution and intrigue; but that, as for them, their robust consciences have no need of God. The people want neither to dupe nor to be duped any longer: what they call for today is a positive law, based in reason and justice, which imposes itself on all, and which nobody is allowed to mock.

Would a reform of the old religion be enough to respond to this wish of the people? No. The people have realized that religion had not been legal tender for a long time among the upper classes, while they continued to believe in it; that, even in the temples, it had lost all credit and all prestige; that it counts for absolutely nothing in politics and business; finally, that the separation of faith and law has become an axiom of government everywhere. The tolerance of the State now covers religion, which is precisely the opposite of what had taken place in the past. Thus the people have followed the movement inaugurated by their leaders; it is wary of the spiritual, and it no longer wants a religion which has been made an instrument of servitude by clerical and anticlerical Machiavellianism. Whose fault is that?

But are the people capable of philosophy?

Without hesitation we answer: Yes, as well as reading, writing and arithmetic; as well as understanding the catechism and practicing a craft. We even go as far as to think philosophy can be found in its entirety in that essential part of public education, the trade: a matter of attention and habit. Primary instruction requires three years, apprenticeship three more, for a total of six years: when philosophy, the popularization of which has become a necessity of the first order in our times, must be taken by the plebeian, in addition to the six years of primary and professional instruction to which he is condemned, an hour per week for six more years, would that be a reason to deny the philosophical capacity of the people?

The people are philosophical, because they are as weary of praying as of paying. They have had enough of the pharisee and the publican; and all it desires, and the point we have reached, is to know how to direct its ideas, and to free itself from this world of tolls and paternosters. It is to this end that we have resolved, with some friends, to consecrate our forces, certain as we are that, if sometimes this philosophy of the people spreads a bit too much from our pen, the truth, once known, will not lack abbreviators.

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

1 Comment

  1. Shawn-

    I just wanted to thank you for making this available, as I’ve posted this translation to my personal gaming list. I would not have spoken so harshly to you in the past had I been aware of your scholarly work, which I must respect.

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