Feminist Responses to Proudhon


The effort to translate Proudhon’s Justice in the Revolution and in the Church is just one step in the much larger project of coming to terms with the fundamental tensions in his thought, which have their clearest expression in his discussions of love, marriage and the alleged biological differences between men and women.

Some of that work can be done through close analysis of Proudhon’s own works. There are arguably two competing accounts of Justice in those works: one of which appears to be generic, drawing its inspiration from the broadest sort of appeal to human equality before society law and justice; and one of which seems to depend on a theory of irreducible inequality among human capacities. And perhaps the contradictions between those two positions are not quite as glaring as they might appear — provided we accept, provisionally and in context, biological premises that we would almost certainly have to otherwise reject. The suspension of disbelief demanded is, however, no small thing.

Another logical approach to the problem involves taking seriously the responses to Proudhon’s Justice, and to other related works. In general, I’m afraid it is the case that criticisms of Proudhon’s work seldom took it seriously enough to provide many insights. There are massive works like the three-volume De la justice dans la science hors l’église et hors la révolution, by Jean-Guillaume-César-Alexandre-Hippolyte, baron de Colins, which ultimately tell us a good deal about Colins’ rational socialism, but shed comparatively little light on Proudhon’s texts. The same is arguably true of Eugène de Mirecourt’s Lettres de Monsieur P.-J. Proudhon. The best known of the anarchist critiques, Joseph Déj́acque’s “On the Human Being, Male and Female,” arguably isn’t much better.

Where we do find useful critiques, suitable for the project of teasing out the contradictions and possibilities in Proudhon’s work, is in the specifically feminist responses by his female contemporaries, who often occupied theoretical positions much closer to his own. Again, there is a complex play of connections and oppositions that has to be navigated, but the materials are often really exceptional and working with them is generally as entertaining and satisfying as engaging with Proudhon’s anti-feminist works is frustrating.

Over the last week I have been able to complete a draft translations of a couple of my favorite texts from that body of feminist responses.

André Léo’s “Woman and Mores” was partially translated into English and published in feminist papers in the United States in the 19th century. It is in some ways a very direct response to Proudhon’s Eleventh Study, which offers useful critiques and alternate approaches to understanding gendered difference. Léo was a long-time socialist radical, who crossed paths with both Proudhon and Bakunin in her career. Among her other works, readers will find proposals for mutual credit similar to Proudhon’s, but also fiction and social criticism.

Jenny P. d’Héricourt’s Woman Emancipated was also partially translated in the 19th century, under the title A Woman’s Philosophy of Woman, but large sections of the analysis and program presented in the second volume have been unavailable in English. I have restored the sections in the first volume to their original order, provided draft translations of the previously untranslated sections of volume two and begun the work of revising the 19th-century translation. Despite the resulting inconsistencies, I think that the merits of the work should be apparent. And for those who know Proudhon’s work well, the obviously engagement by d’Héricourt with that work should be obvious. Jenny d’Héricourt is, for me, another of the great “lost” anarchist-adjacent theorists and it’s a great please to finally reach this stage in the translation of her greatest work. You can find other works by her in the archive as well.

I have begun work on a third major response, the second edition of Juliette Lambert’s Anti-Proudhonian Ideas on Love, Woman and Marriage, which responds to both Proudhon’s Justice and War and Peace. I will link the drafts here as they are completed — and will update all of the links as drafts are revised.

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