Proudhon, “Economy” (Ms. 18255, BnF, excerpts)

These writings come from a manuscript held by the French national library, with the title “Economy.” Like the other manuscripts with that title, it appears to be from the early 1850s.

This particular set of writings are not presented in that wonderfully readable script that Proudhon used when finishing manuscripts. Quite the contrary, much of the material here is written in a baffling scrawl, which takes multiple examinations to decipher. So there are almost certainly small errors, as well as the obvious gaps. Use with care.



What the scribblers have called grandeur and decadence in literature, and in the arts, is from now on easy to explain, according to the literary history of France.

There are, in reality, as many diverse literatures, or literary movements, in a nation, as there are different intellectual movements.

If the intellectualist movement is unique, once the thought that it furnishes is exhausted, that literature falls, for humanity does not repeat itself.

Thus, there was only one latin literature, and then everything was said; — there had previously been a Greek literature (setting aside the Ionic or Homeric movement); it was the one required after Solon, and it finished shortly after Alexander.

Christianity has not produced, either in the East or in the West, any literary movement: one would say that the Greek language, Greek art, like the Latin language, was rebellious to the Christian movement. To tell the truth, Christianity only had an influence on Greco-Latin society from Constantine onward, and that was already over. It was after Constantine that the principal fathers appeared, imitators of the ancients, and beyond them, nothing.

In Germany, it was Bergmann who made the remark (Dict. [ ], 9th, 1854), there have already been two literary movements, that of the [ ], and that of the 18th century.

In France, we can distinguish five: 1. the era of the troubadours; 2. that of the Renaissance; 3. that of Louis XIV; 4. that of the 18th century; — 5. that of romanticism, school of Rousseau and Chateaubriand. We are beginning a new period, which will be the Socialist period.

Economic science will be the soul of this movement, as heroic poetry, scholasticism, the study of the ancients, the philosophy of Descartes, the Encyclopedia, and the Revolution were the driving causes of previous literary works.

Is there a decline or progress in this whole set of literary manifestations?

In my opinion first of all, there is movement; this cannot be denied.

Secondly, all things compared, and judging the masses rather than the individuals, talent has been equal at all times.

Coming to the productions themselves, we can find different qualities in them, and choose and prefer according to tastes: — in my opinion again, this preference is poorly founded, each literature responding to an idea, is what it must be, and when it is that, it is quite beautiful.

But we can nevertheless say that the more progress the reader’s thought has itself made, the more it feels itself carried forward, and disposed to prefer the literature that translates it best, that is to say the literature closest to his time.

Certainly, I prefer the 18th century to the 17th, and this century to that of Marat and [Montague]; but, whatever anyone thinks, I also prefer the grand manner of our time to that of the likes of Rousseau and Voltaire.

The conservatives, who never preach anything but the old models must be gravediggers of the nation; and I know of nothing poorer in genius than these so-called purist writers, who only admire the past, and under [pretext] of neologism, reject all new ideas.

Well! Without doubt, a new society must remake its language and the beauty of a nation is that it constantly reworks its speech.

Christians have never known how to do this: read their Gospels, their fathers, and the Imitation!…

Literary history, like political history, needs to be remade.

Ms. 18255—Économie. [Gallica]

The Extremes.

Avoid the extremes, and seek the happy medium, says the Wisdom of the Nations.

That aphorism, of course, is very true: but it must be well understood.

It is up to philosophy to look into it and demonstrate it.

I say that every extreme, in itself, is false and implies a contradiction; but by extreme I mean the element constitutive of every synthesis, an element to which it does not [ ], which constitutes it [i.e. synthesis] that much better as it is found employed more energetically.

Thus, the proprietor is a constitutive element of the social order, necessary, indispensable.

To deny it implies a contradiction.

In the common language we say: Property must be curbed, not pushed to the extreme.

I will correct that language, which lacks scientific exactitude, and say: property, in itself, strong or weak, powerful or controlled, as you like, is exclusive, fraudulent, sinful, selfish, and wrong; it contains within it, theft.

However, that same property, such as it is, is indispensable to human order; and it is even because of this that it is necessary. Remove that individualist character, and [   ] you render it powerless….

It is not the extreme, [ ] property, that is to be avoided: that extreme always exists, since it is the very principle….

Here, all the happy mediums in the world are lies, pure arbitrariness.

It is necessary to balance property with a contrary principle, which is, as you prefer, collectivity or community.

(There is no moderate community: community in itself is as bad as property…. It calls, not for a corrective, shears, a gardener to fight it, a [   ] to geld it: it needs a balance.

The two principles must be joined, married, mutually penetrating, in a manner to form an accord…. Thus:

Theory: Everything that can be appropriated must be appropriated; everything that can be grouped, even among the things appropriated, must be grouped.

(Similarly with Competition, Credit, Government, etc.; division of labor, collectivity.)

Other antinomies are subject to a different law, for example, that of Dead weightlive weight. It is certain that we tend, and will constantly tend, to reduce one and increase the other: that is the law of Progress. Cf. [   ] Dead weight, live weight, pages 11-12.


Unanimity.—Universal Consent

There are things, in the moral order, about which the human race is unanimous; there are even many of them.

So isn’t it possible that all the questions of politics, economics and morals could be simplified or clarified in such a way that the response to them would be unanimous?

In this way, the direct government of the people would be possible.

It is according to that idea, confirmed by the testimony of the sciences, that [Pierre-Napoléon] Domenjarie [1852] has written his pamphlet, La loi morale, loi d’unanimité, which we have read in prison.

That philosophical thesis [reveals] the ignorance of the author, but it is nonetheless useful to clarify it.

The things about which there can be unanimity (it is not a question of facts/deeds) are all definite abstractions, whatever order of ideas they may belong to.

Thus, is it not permitted to kill a man: Non occides.

But the disagreements begin when it is a question of practical cases:

Is it permitted to kill in legitimate defense?

Is it permitted to kill in war?

Is it permitted to kill judicially?

Is it permitted to kill deserters?

Is it permitted to kill a man or woman caught in flagrante delicto in the act of adultery?

Is it permitted to kill a tyrant?

Is it permitted to kill the abductor of a minor child? etc.

Now, on the practical cases, there is necessary flexibility, and as the circumstances alone make the law or non-law, it follows that one cannot posit an absolute principle, and that unanimity is impossible.

Thus, on a principle of abstract mathematics, there will be unanimity.—But if it is a question of assessing the results of a business, of an enterprise, of an experiment, etc., opinions can vary infinitely.

Similarly, in the moral realm, there is unanimity on principles, because the principle expresses an ideality, an abstraction. Only do to others what you would like others to do to you: everyone is unanimous on this precept, which we find expressed spontaneously everywhere.

It is an abstract, ideal formula.

But what should I want for myself? What can I demand? What is my right? That is where unanimity ceases to exist, and it is necessarily replaced by free debate, which ends in the transaction or the Contract.

The value of a product is a common example: it summarizes all cases.


Now, Reason asks itself:

Is there a science for undefinable things, on which unanimity will never practically exist, as there is one for definite things?…

It is this question to which the economic science responds.


From this previous explanation, it is easy to deduce and a priori judgment that declares void the so-called science of Fourier, which aspires to [resolve] everything, mathematically, that is to say abstractly, and by means of definitions.

From this as well, the elimination of the Communist thought, which, supposing unanimity, suppresses debate, competition, contract; the very principle of conventional right!….

It is time to open the eyes of the public in that regard and especially to repress the [   ] presumption of these poor Devils who believe they have found the secret of the world when they have produced a [   ] gross naïveté.

What then is the science of indefinable things, of things on which there remains unnecessary doubt, and where unanimity is impossible?

It is the science that teaches us to know the [causes], the reason, the laws that rule this very variability: and how bye judicious and equitable convention, we arrest that variability, and convert into something definite a thing that is not of that nature.

Sic Notion of dead weight [poids mort];—variable.

     Notion of maximum load [poids utile];—variable.

     Relation between one and the other;—variable.

What are the causes of these variations?—How do they come about?—What is their mode, their character?—What utility can we draw from them for the conduct of life? etc., etc. How are we to behave with them? etc.


Mergers = Wage Labor

Every merge of companies is an aggravation of the salariat, [of wage labor.]

We see it in the railways, and the mines.

We see it in the gas companies, in Paris.

We see in again in the omnibus companies, the merger of which has rendered the situation of the employees more difficult and more precarious.

Economic Science, Mother Science.

Economic Science, as the Science of all indefinable things, precedes, follows, and consequently encompasses all the other sciences, which have as their object estimated things.

Because definitions presuppose a state of indefinition, where there is only incessant movement, change, permutation and disruption.

Likewise, definition supposes after it a return to the indefinite, to chaos: every created thing, everything defined, necessarily having an end, as it had a beginning.

Chaos, the state of indefinition, is thus the state before and after Creation;

And all that we call Creation, or Science, is nothing other than the introduction of the defined into the indefinite; — the manner in which indefinite things are defined, and how after having been defined, or created, they fall into indefinition, which is confusion or Chaos.

Thus the indefinition of ideas is not the absence of all ideas;

Just as chaos is not Nothingness.

We can therefore know something of chaos, of the indefinite, even if it is only this, that there is no finite law, neither number, nor measurement, nor form, nor movement, nor stability, nor division, nor grouping, etc., etc.

But what we can know above all is the way in which these same laws imbue chaos, or the indefinite, and form and extract all beings from it.

At base, there is no absolute existence except that of chaos, since the other existences, or definitions, are essentially fleeting in it, and only affect it in a transitory way; let them bring it all back, let them sink into matter, etc., etc.

We we do not see, or we see very confusedly, in the world of nature, the creative operations; — we can only follow them with great difficulty.

But they are best discovered in the world of Society…

In society, everything that has a real, [ ], legal existence is a thing defined, or created; such are the states, institutions, customs, laws, contracts, operations of [ ] and exchange, etc.

Everything that remains undefined (everything is originally undefined in nature; everything is capable of definition); is chaotic matter. Such is value (in general), labor, etc. etc.

Of First Philosophy.

Proposition. — First philosophy is nothing other then the economic science. This will be easy to demonstrate when the science itself has been established.

This is the great error of the modern philosophers, since Descartes.

This is because they sought first philosophy by following the example of mathematics….

Descartes said formally that he tried to proceed in the manner of the geometers; he poses definitions, theorems, axioms.

Spinoza, Malebranche and Lamy, the priest of the Oratory, have done as he did.

Leibniz borrowed his monadology from differential calculus.

Port Royal was also Cartesian in philosophy.

They have not seen, and no one has yet seen, that a first philosophy most be prior to mathematics, given that it is prior to definition…..

Hence the error in which the human mind has been engaged for more than two centuries.

It is to the powerless effort of mathematician philosophers that we owe the distinction between Spirit and Matter;

The theory of the two powers, Church and State;

That of the two powers in politics, legislative and executive;

The rationalism of Rousseau;

The eclecticism of Cousin, etc.

— In this way Descartes [ ] engendered a whole movement of philosophical, religious and political reaction.

He has been accused of atheism: that is wrong. It was a Jean-Jacques, in the style that Gassendi mocked, who saw very well the consequences of that philosophy.

Article of Littré in the Débats for February 9, on a translation of Galien.

With regard to the theory of final causes maintained by Galien, he shows how that question is exhausted by modern anatomical science.

There is no chance: that hypothesis is eliminated.

No Providence either: given that Life is not free; given that organic substance is elective, that it takes on only four elements , hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen; — that the more it is subordinated to the laws of inorganic bodies, and to all the accidents of the [. ] where it wavers like a flame.

From this, countless [ ] brought to the structure of living beings;

From this, a unitary plan, given by the laws of combinations of elements;

Hence, finally, the scale of the sciences, and the subordination of the science of living bodies to that of inorganic beings.

First Philosophy.

Let us imagine man, barely knowing how to speak, or rather to name the sentient beings; totally lacking in abstract words, verbs, moods, tenses, etc.; — having no collection of observations, proverbs; not knowing how to count, measure, or weigh; — incapable of forming a single rational comparison; and barely following a poetic comparison: one wonders what the elements of his logic will be in this condition.

If there is a first philosophy, it must be a philosophy that preceded all other knowledge, both in historical fact and in theoretical deduction.

Can we imagine this primitive man proceeding with the Definitions of a Descartes, a Spinosa, a Leibnitz? With our literary and scientific education, so developed, we can hardly follow the speculation of these philosophers.

Can we better imagine the same primitive man syllogizing according to the rules of Aristotle? Or guiding his mind on the wings of Plato’s ideas? What nonsense.
The syllogism, ontology, the theory of causes, universals, categories, the dogma of a Supreme Being, of a metempsychosis, the substantial distinction of spirit and matter: all these things are authentically of dialectical invention: how are we to place them at the head of a primary philosophy?

How did Arabic numerals, and with them arithmetic, only begin to be as in Europe towards the middle of the Middle Ages; geometry was born in Greek with Euclid and we believe that early philosophy was a set of notions more mobile than all that!…

— If there is a first philosophy. It must be based on elements that are simpler, more palpable, than anything that the human sciences can offer that is most elementary and simple.

A system of numeration! It is too much for first philosophy.

The Elements of Euclid! Homer never [reasoned] the equality the sum of the 3 angles to triangle to that of two right angles.

The alphabet? The distinction between alphabetical signs is still too learned: we see this from the history of hieroglyphs.

We forget that what makes up primary education in our country is already a very advanced product of the human mind, which the child appropriates and only understands with the help of simpler notions, which are in him, but which we do not know how to disentangle, and of which we take no account.

These elementary notions, including those of economics, not even as I formulate them in Axioms: speech, which serves the understanding, is only an embarrassment for the imagination. — (How much easier the knowledge of mathematics would be to acquire, if we could eliminate the teaching of speech, figures, signs, and show things! Our students have to study a lot to fully understand the theory of the steam engine, which our mechanics [ ] understand better than them. Those are living; the others reason, and reason with signs!)

Economic notions are things seen, touched, felt, revealed in a word, by the senses, in concert and simultaneously with the understanding. —

These are the notions of equality, balance, relationship, etc.

(Cf. my axioms.


God, Soul, Liberty

There are things that disgust the heart, without disgusting the intelligence. Examples are:

The denial of God, or atheism;

The denial of immortality;

The denial of liberty.

It would not be difficult to discover others.

I say that the negation of God does not disgust the intelligence, and that, on the contrary, it is theism that disgusts it: it is enough to see the so-called proofs of the reality of that being to convince you of it.

It is the same with immortality.

These two things disgust the understanding that much more as the attentive study of nature and humanity leads [. ] to conceive the unity of the world, its movement, etc., without any intervention of a supreme beings, and without the distinction of [existences] imagined by Descartes.

The free will, an absolute faculty of self-determination without any external impetus, or consideration of motives, also disgusts the understanding: it is a contradiction in terms.

However, the negation of these things disgusts our conscience; it protests, it murmurs: I have felt it thousands of times and I do not believe that anyone can deny it.

There is in us a faculty, which is not satisfied with what contents the mind; and to which the mind says in vain that its pretentious are absurd; it does not manage to convince it. It rebels!…

It is one of the antinomies of our being: which, no more than another, cannot be resolved, but which we must well study and understand?

Perhaps as well this antinomy that I think I sense is nothing other than the effect of my education: I have been raised in the firm belief in the existence of God, and in the immortality of the soul; and a sort of regret, an internal reproach that I feel in denying these two dogmas, is perhaps only a remainder of the sadness that one always feels at the loss of an illusion, of a prejudice.

Perhaps in 99 centuries, these beliefs being extinct, the men who exist will no longer feel anything similar. — It is something good in itself to not have illusions or prejudices; — but the moment when is rid of them is always disagreeable, and that moment is more or less long.

So let us reason about a thing that touches the heart less, Liberty. (It is not a question here of political liberty, but of free will.)

Certainly it disgusts us to think of ourselves as a machine, something it is necessary to accept, however, if we do not have free will.

We aspire to independence, to ruling ourselves by ourselves; to the most complete absolutism; we want to be initiators, creators; and the philosopher, who builds a theory of serf arbiter (enslaved will), proves himself by the act that he aspires to something other than he demonstrates and that he does not believe a world of his own theory.

All the practice of life is based on that hypothesis: life would not even be possible, nor society, without that hypothesis.

Doesn’t it trouble the human mind and confound the reason, that this necessity for the conduct of life begins from an absurd supposition?

As much as it is loath to say that the effect does not presuppose the cause;

So much it implies that not everything has a beginning.

So what is the core but liberty? It is the act by which man declares himself initiator, principle, cause, and commencement. — but if I am condition, I am no longer free


God, Soul, Liberty. Antinomy.

Quid ergo?

We have to behave here as we do with all antinomies, analogous to political economy, i.e. admit both of the two contrary propositions as simultaneously true, and true precisely because they seem to refute each other.

Dead weight drives out useful weight, and vice versa. One is the negation of the other, and yet both must be admitted.

Likewise admitting both free will and non-free will:

Knowing that we are initiators and, at the same time, conditioned, free and unfree.

This is the law of beings, in the infinite circle of existences.

All have their share of liberty and fatality; free in one sense, fatal in the other, etc.

— So, at a guess, are we going to make belief in God the very motive of atheism?… Why not?

Is this not how property is born from theft? And from the [ ] of property, from the recognition of theft, is consequently born justice?

What is a right? — The legitimation of an unjust thing.

What is a legitimate child? — A bastard recognized!…

What’s a holy, faithful and chaste wife? — A licensed concubine, who follows her license.

This is how Hegel drew being from nothingness.

What is the price of a thing? A determination of the value, the [finalization] of a mobile thing.

What is the truth? — A station in lies.

What do we mean by a truthful man? — He who points out what he saw, at a given moment, in the course of a thing; but what he saw may not be true, and he may have misunderstood it: double cause error in his declaration. Although the truthful man is at most a man who speaks as he feels, as he sees, at the [indivisible] moment when he experiences the sensation. There is a long way to go from there to actual veracity.

What is good faith? — perseverance in the truth, which is a station in lying.

So we are free for the same reason that we are not free, because we have the capacity to convert our determinations into an act of initiation.


God, Soul.

Theorem. — There is no absolute being, nor absolute nothingness; these are only abstractions, starting with God.

There are only average existences.

That theorem transforms into this one:

2. There is no absolute annihilation, nor absolute exaltation of being (immortality or perfection); — there are only average states of existence or life, between these two extremes.

(From this principle, badly sorted out, the [belief] in metempsychosis.).—

3. There is neither pure spirit, nor pure matter.

There are only mixed natures, with different degrees of spirituality or seriality.

Banal argument, of the nineteenth century.

1. It is an established fact that religious beliefs do not hold up before the essence of reason.

In other words, there is nothing rational about them, and insofar as we want them to be received by the intelligence, they are absurd.

[(      )]

2. (But, it is a thing no less noted (?) that man creates for himself, for the satisfaction of his conscience, a fantasy or religious symbolism, which he admits without examination, as a means of exciting the religious feeling that is in him, like a mystical language… (this is not very clearly observed)

3. Therefore, it must be admitted that there are irrational notions for the human soul, which nevertheless correspond to one of its special faculties; which respond to needs.

Cf. Revue des deux mondes, 15 mai 1853.

[ ] Thus, we have taken part in the irrationality of religious ideas, without renouncing them for that.

We said to ourselves that these were notions, feelings, of a heightened, transcendent kind, whose supreme character was that, the more we attack them with intelligence, the more they despair with their absurdity.

We have seen there a phenomenon necessary to our nature ;

A manifestation of our most noble faculties.

And everywhere the revelation of realities that are supernatural, et supra-rational: God, the future life, the soul, etc.

Hence these necessary and generally accepted consequences: that all religions are equally good, equally respectable, equally absurd, equally indestructible, equally necessary and irrefutable; — that these are variations of the eternal song that the human soul sings to itself, when it reflects on its origins, its destiny, its essence, etc. …

That we are allowed to free ourselves from it, without this having any consequences for the morality of man; as each also has the right to give themselves up to it without anyone having the right to [] them of hypocrisy, weakness of mind, superstition…

That we are allowed to free ourselves from it, without this having any consequences for the morality of man;

This is already progress, immense progress, which is implied by the scientific, political, etc. incapacity of the churches and cults.

We could already be satisfied with that; but a question arises, in the name of the religious faculty itself.


God, Soul.

Is such religiosity worthy of man?

Is it a legitimate term in this series: Work, Industry, Science, Philosophy, Justice, Art or Poetry, Religion?

Whether we place this term at the bottom or at the top; whether it comes out at the foot of the ladder or at its top; starting point or ending point; chaos or heaven of the mind: it doesn’t matter. Does it give satisfaction?

As a starting point, don’t we arrive by the naturalist series, physiology, the theory of sensations? —

As intellectual [destiny], can we go beyond social existence, in which we participate as actors and spectators, members and parties, and of which we give ourselves the continual spectacle of the help of institutions, solemnities, offices , eloquence, music, poetry, the arts?

Is it not true that the poorer a nation is in social manifestations, the richer it is in celestial and paradisiacal conceptions?

Is it not a fact that the happiest societies are the least theological; to the point that extreme poverty ended up giving rise to a religion which placed the entire reality of man’s life after the grave?

Can we deliberately accept, [speak], cherish, wear talismans in the virtue of which we do not believe; — practice remedies that have been shown to be false and which we make fun of; — worship a sovereign being that reason demonstrates to be impossible, absurd and wicked (identity of God and the Devil); hope for a later life without motive, without reason, etc. ?…

Obviously this religiosity is of [Christianity]. Be a Christian, a Jew, or a [ ], if you can: but forget about this religiosity that has nothing spontaneous about it, which is the [ ] of an impotent eclecticism.

This is a mockery; an outrage to man, and to religions themselves.

(Develop this thesis)


God = Chaos.

Cf. All that I have already written, in my manuscript on Morals.

The ontologists: God is everything that we see.

God is infinite; he fulfills everything; he does everything.

If he lives in us, we die, we [  ].

God is in the animal, in the plant, in the globe, in the man: for he is everywhere, etc.


I change all of that language, because I banish ontologism, in order to substitute the series, and I say?

God is in every composition, agglomeration, accumulation, vortex, ocean group, mass, flood, current, etc.

God is in every series.

In all that I make and unmake, I make and unmake God himself.

God divides in two: There is no absolute existence. The antinomy is insoluble; The divine [  ] is nonsense.

And the world rests on a general antinomy, of which [  ] man, or the spirit of seriation, of order, is [  ] a term, and of which the [  ] chaos, is the other term.

(Posit in my morals the series of propositions to demonstrate about God.)

To the extent that one affirms the reality of an absolute, infinite existence, I am an atheist; I deny that ideal, the corruption of an impossible synthesis!

But I affirm the reality of a supreme antinomy, of which the two opposing terms, the poles are Chaos and the Human Mind; Anarchy, or Liberty, and Order.

I believe it is appropriate to adapt the name of God to the term opposed to man, which is nature naturing, or Chaos, perpetual creator-organizer, the True God.

Whatever one [  ] in that regard, the word anti-theism will remain: it expresses the necessary, irreducible duality.

Destruction of Human Nature.

If we take the division of the human being into three great faculties: the senses or the body; the mind or idea; the conscience or feelings, we will find that each of these faculties corresponds to a special mode of destruction.

The body is destroyed by wage labor and poverty;

The mind by forced ignorance and superstition;

The heart, the moral sense, by obedience and arbitrariness.

The Malthusian theory, the English economists and capitalism take care of the first;

The university and the clergy [take care] of the 2nd;

The government, with bayonets and police, take care of the 3rd.

Moreover, these three agents of destruction support and stand in for one another: poverty breeds ignorance and immorality; and these in turn produce and maintain tyranny and poverty.

What is happening today, under the name of conservative government, is nothing other than the alliance of the three destructive powers: Malthusian capitalism; obscurantist Catholicism; and police and murderous despotism.

This is the European regime in 1854.

Warning to the Americans.

P.-J. Proudhon, “Economy” manuscripts (BnF) 87r.


Labor and Poverty.

General balance and progress.

Progress in industry has the special aim of bringing man’s industrial means into line with the exploitation of the globe, and ensuring its possession for our species, to the exclusion of useless and harmful species.

If we consider a particular society, in possession of an area of fertile land, circumscribed and determined, the productive power of the people who inhabit it having as its essence its territory, its industry has no need to be taken to the higher point where we see the English today…

Now, whatever the labor, little or much developed, it is always sufficient for the absorption of the vital faculties, because it is labor.

A nation that labors, and whose labor is properly distributed, whatever the industrial means, will therefore be in natural population balance; or at least it will tend to it:

The population having as its natural measure the intensity of the labor.

Let an invention that reduces labor take place, as soon as the balance is broken, the generating force resuming the [ ], the population will grow as the intensity of the labor, increased by the need to feed a larger number of people, brings it back into balance.

Thus, industrial progress, although it adds something to general well-being, is of much less importance in this respect than is believed; wherever man, with the smallest means, has had liberty, land, sun and labor he has been able to enjoy an equal amount of happiness.

This must be true, moreover: it would imply a contradiction in human destiny, if the last generations should providentially be happier than the first.

The ills of humanity come from ignorance of its laws…

But there is a collective destiny that is trying to be satisfied: the unitary possession of the planet.

This end can only be achieved by two things: the discipline of humankind, and its industrial and unitary organization; and means of execution related to the task.

This is the progress…

Discipline, Education of the species, essence of the culture of globes;

Development of Industry, and as a condition, development of sciences.


The whole world rests on hypotheses; and the best of hypotheses is, whatever we say and whatever we do, only a hypothesis.

It is the characteristic of economic science to unfold on this mobile and changing basis, unlike mathematics, which relies solely on definitions.

— M. De Maistre has written: Nothing afflicts dialectics like the use of these vague words that present no circumscribed idea.


Property is Theft.

The theory of indefinites explains how this proposition is an absolute truth, and how nevertheless [property] is an organic and social necessity.

Yes. Property, addressed strictly in terms of its consequences, is Theft; it is unrighteous, unsociable, unjust, ruthless, selfish, and deceitful.

But despite all this property is a necessary and legitimate institution, as a necessary counterweight and opposition to society, the State, the City, the Corporation, the Homeland and, finally, [the principle of] Community.

Because Community is also iniquitous, unjust, illiberal, oppressive, jealous, etc.

These are two antithetical principles, which, expressed in their purity and energy, are naturally subversive of any order, and deleterious: in this respect they may be compared to certain substances which, in their highest degree of purity, i.e. concentration, are violent poisons, but which are [ ], nutritious, and wholesome when diluted with water or other substances: e.g. oxygen, carbon, [ ] nicotine, hydrocyanic acid, concentrated vinegar, potato essence, etc., etc.

For property and community to be useful and good, they must be reciprocally saturated by each other: then they form a mixture which, like atmospheric air, water, alcohols, etc. . is pleasant, necessary for life, and eminently moral.

It is according to the same method that I resolve all the antinomies I have posed in my Contradictions, notably the division of labor and collective force, sale and purchase, the State and the citizen, or centralization and democracy, aristocracy and equality.

Property is therefore theft, and it is at the same time something else, like all the indefinable [principles] that are at the same time several things. (Cf. Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Third Study; and Letter to Villaumé.)




What is a definition?

We must not let ourselves by too frightened by this word, which has [ ] the scientists and philosophers so much.

It seems that the definition is a phoenix, which bears with it all light; a proposition so happily chosen that it grasps the principle at its origin and shows it so well to the mind that without the definition, it would not [ ] it at all, or [ ] it very badly.

It is a very serious prejudice.

Every definition is in the mind before being in words. The spoken definition can be more or less fortunate in its expression. If the known definition is exact, the [first] will do. It serves no other purpose than to call the attention to a pure and a priori conception of the understanding.

Let us explain this for example:

The straight line is the shortest path from one point to another.

Is that a definition?

One can contest it.

That proposition indicates clearly a property of the straight line; it is possible that it does not give them all. It would thus be incomplete. We can conceive in fact that the straight line is that which is traced by a moving point, which moves forward without ever deviating to either side; etc., etc. etc.

However, that general definition is sufficient; one does not risk every going astray by adopting it. Why?

Because in reality it is not the words that define; it is the mind that, on hearing words, knows immediately the thing as defined.

Although we can then discover other advantages of the straight line than such [ ], other properties, other ways of presenting it, it is certain at least that what we have said about it will never be found false; that it will be this in all circumstances; that the definition does not bend any more than the straight lines themselves.

This is what a definition is, what it is worth, when it applies = a truly definable thing.

As soon as we hear the words, although the words do not say everything and sometimes say it badly, the idea is given; the mind itself defines it. Everything defined is identical.


What do I mean after this by things or notions that cannot be defined?

These are things that the mind cannot conceive in the entirety of their being without conceiving them at one time as variable, without at the same time denying them identity.

Are there any of these things? — Q.E.D.

Until now, the sciences have proceeded by defined notions; metaphysics, or science of sciences even has the pretension of commencing everything by definitions.

This error is the most serious of all those which could affect philosophy; because it infests it from its origin and makes impossible, illogical, inextricable, half of the sciences, all the sciences of facts.



An axiom is a proposition that states, in the simplest manner possible, a relation, either of nature or of the understanding.

An axiom is for that very reason indisputable.

Such is this one:

Nothing is produced from nothing.

This is why axioms are called indemonstrable; it would be better to say irreducible.

The axiom supposes the definition, which serves to state, in the simplest manner possible, the fact or first principle, either of nature or of man.

In reality every definition is a tautology, since the first fact cannot be defined by another fact. Such is the idea of cause: Everything that makes another thing happen.

Now, the idea of cause [. ] in the mind; it soon leads to the axiom: Nothing is produced from nothing, or, Everything that happens has a cause.

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