Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Volume One: Translator’s Notes

I have just uploaded the first volume of my working translation of Proudhon’s Of Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, which includes the Program, the Preliminary Address and first three Studies. These are revised drafts, with most of the problem passages resolved, but the following notes should give an idea of the present state and possible future revisions of the text. 

I’ll begin working on the revision of the next three Studies tomorrow, but will also try to schedule a first group reading of this first volume sometime soon.



The working translations presented here are part of an attempt to establish an edition of the major works of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. The goal is not simply to provide individual translations, but to provide a collection of translations that work well together to ease the task of the student of Proudhon’s thought. A later stage will involve considerable annotation, including some attempts to connect the various works, but the connections have to be discovered before they can be noted, so it has been necessary simply to prepare as great a volume of relatively clean draft translations as possible as quickly as possible. At present, the raw materials for the New Proudhon Library project amount to well over a million words of new translation, together with the drafts that I have accumulated since starting to translate Proudhon’s works in 2006.

This particular volume — the first of four covering the 1860 revised and expanded edition of Justice in the Revolution and in the Church — contains drafts that have been subject to at least two rounds of revision. It is quite possible to that some errors have still escaped the process, but it is unlikely that they will pose particular problems for readers. There are some questions of style that are still unsettled. At times, for example, Proudhon goes beyond the normal French gendering of some key terms — among them, significantly, the Revolution and the Church — to real personification, so readers may find, for instances, that the Church is at times referred to as “it” and sometimes as “she.” Final decisions on some of these questions may ultimately depend on larger patterns in Proudhon’s work.

In the interest of easing the work of tracing Proudhon’s keywords and fundamental concepts across and between works, the tendency has been to translate the relevant terms rather uniformly. Where there are obvious English equivalents for French synomyms — labor and work for travail and œuvre, for example — I have generally maintained the existing patterns of usage, except where that practice would obscure familiar English phrases. (Droit de travail has generally been translated as right to work.) Some key distinctions have been more rigorously maintained — right and law for droit and loi, for example — even in some instances where the temptation is strong to have recourse to more familiar constructions.

It is important to note that these choices are not driven by any particular uniformity in Proudhon’s own use of terms. On the contrary, because Proudhon understood most concepts as “indefinable notions,” always subject to additional clarification in context and sometimes to startling swings in meaning. (Anarchy is the most striking example of this tendency, marking, as it does in Proudhon’s works, both the social problem and a significant element of its solution.) At times, the goal is simply to reduce the potential of introducing additional uncertainty in the translation process. There are, of course, terms in French that are subject to multiple meanings that are difficult to render in English without simply making a choice among them: esprit for spirit and mind, conscience for conscience and consciousness, expérience for experience and experiment, etc. In these cases, and some derived from them, the practice has generally been to translate the word in all cases with the phonetically similar English term. In these cases, it is often possible to see the two most logical options as a choice between the language of the Church and the language of the Revolution. In instances where real confusion would be introduced, more specific choices have been made, but elsewhere readers are encouraged to treat the various senses of the French term as part of a single series of meanings and to pay close attention to contexts.

The 1860 edition of Justice was first released as a series of twelve installments, each of which included a revised Study from the 1858 first edition, together with a series of endnotes, marked by letters in the text, and an application of the theory to current events, under the title “News of the Revolution.” In addition, a new “Program on Popular Philosophy” was added at the beginning of the first installment. In the Œuvres complètes, these “Notes and Clarifications” were relegated to two separate volumes. At least one modern French edition has excluded the “News of the Revolution” material as inessential. There are perhaps arguments to be made that the 1858 edition is a more cohesive work than this edition, but there are also indications that the period between the two editions marked a kind of watershed in Proudhon’s understanding of his project, in the context of which the relative messiness of the later edition is itself of interest to students of the work. Part of the process moving forward will be establishing a parallel translation of the 1858 edition and documenting the differences between the two published editions and the substantial body of related manuscripts that have survived. For now, however, readers should be aware that the choice of text and the approach to the organization of the translations reflects a specific interest in the reuse of the 1858 work as the main material of Proudhon’s “Essais d’une philosophie populaire” — a title that we have to understand as implying both short works and tests, trials or experiments in popular philosophy.

As the process of translation, revision and annotation continues, the current drafts of all translations will be available online at proudhonlibrary.org. The texts by Proudhon will be supplemented by selected works of criticism, relevant correspondence, commentary, etc. Notices of group readings will also be posted on that page.

— Shawn P. Wilbur

September 3, 2023.

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