Proudhon, “The Philosophy of Progress” (revised and expanded translation)

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Proudhon’s Philosophy of Progress is one of those books that has simply become part of my basic intellectual toolkit, but in ways that I often forget — at least until I read it again and re-encounter all the delightful ideas and turns of phrase it contains. Returning to it over the last week has been a pleasure, but I’ve also felt a bit pressured to wrap up the preliminaries and get on to the notes on Justice in the Revolution and in the Church.

I initially chose to translated Philosophy of Progress as a way to ease into the task of translating Justice, although it took more than a decade for that second task to actually get well underway. My sense at the time, based on scattered reading of Proudhon’s work in French, was that it was at least a step on the way to his more substantial works. It was a pleasant surprise as I translated it and my interest in the text really hasn’t waned over the years, despite my increasing knowledge of Proudhon’s work. There are things about it that tie it to a period before the various developments that made Justice possible in its various editions, but there are arguably many more things about it that remain relevant — and in some ways it is a much clearer introduction to Proudhon’s philosophy and method than any of the alternatives.

It’s a good book — and I will undoubtedly take the time to write up some notes on it, as a work on philosophy and method, before I turn to the “Program” of Justice. I was pleased to find that my translation of it didn’t need a lot of revision either. There were the inevitable errors, including one or two that scrambled a sentence, but the hardest thing about the revision was really maintaining my concentration. The best thing about the process was that, as I did with The Celebration of Sunday, I was able to add a bit of new material.

There are two draft translations of letters from M. Romain-Cornut, whose questions to Proudhon inspired the book. In a future expansion, I will dig a bit deeper into the correspondence and also into two manuscripts that contain variants and unpublished materials, but the time didn’t seem right at the moment for that work. This new edition also contains a text from the Economy manuscripts, “Principles of the Philosophy of Progress,” finally in its complete form, as well as another short item from the same manuscripts, “New Propositions Demonstrated in the Practice of Revolutions.”

I encourage those who intend to read Justice to read these texts and to treat the two main texts here as part of the same project of summary and clarification that occupied Proudhon in the early 1850s. Those who know my own work, but have not read The Philosophy of Progress before, will perhaps find that some of the notions I have borrowed from Proudhon will become clearer in the process.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2702 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.